Tourist Attractions Near Palermo
Sicily's capital city, Palermo, offers visitors a wealth of attractions, from lively, colourful markets to UNESCO World Heritage Sites like the glorious 12th century Cathedral at Corso Vittorio Emanuele, or the wonderful Norman Castle, Teatro Massimo – Italy's largest theater – or the Capella Palatine with its beautiful Byzantine mosaics. Just outside the city, within an hour's drive, there are beaches ideal for sunbathing, swimming, sailing and surfing. Visiting Sicily without a stay for at least a couple of days in Palermo is simply unthinkable!
Here is a glimpse at some of Palermo's tourist attractions:
1. Palazzo dei Normanni or Royal Palace of Palermo
Palermo's Norman Castle was originally the seat of the Kings of Sicily during the Norman invasion of the island. It was built on the orders of Ruggero II. Afterwards a succession of rulers used the Royal Palace as their seat. Today, the Norman Castle at Piazza Indipendenza 1 is the Sicilian Regional Assembly's seat. It may not look much from the outside, but in the 17th century Spanish rulers ordered a new facade and remodeling of the interiors. There are breathtaking frescoes and gilded state rooms worthy to welcome any monarch today. Cappella Palatina, which is part of the palace, has some of the finest Byzantine mosaics in Siciy. Its arches, walls and ceilings sparkle with the mosaics' golden surfaces.
2. Palermo Cathedral
Built in the 12th century, the Cathedral is mostly known for its royal tombs. Construction began in 1184, using the site of a 9th century mosque built by Saracenes in 831. Details of the mosque's original interiors are still existing today, at the southern porch end of the Cathedral, where a column shows a passage from the Koran. Overlooking Corso Vittorio Emanuele, one of the oldest parts of Palermo, the gorgeous Cathedral is today the parachial church of the city, and throughout the day mass is read. The royal Norman tombs are to the right of the entrance. Also noteworthy are the treasury that houses Constance of Aragon's 13th century crown, and Francesco Laurana's lovely statue of the Madonna from 1469.
3. Vucciria Market
This lively, colourful market covers several alleys leading to Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Here you can buy everything eatable, from freshly baked crusty bread to fresh vegetables and fruit and the seafood catch of the day from Palermo's own port. Many stalls sell freshly prepared meals, fried fish or sandwiches. Also worth a visit is the central Ballarò street market, another vibrant occasion showing off Palermo's daily life.
4. Kalsa of Palermo
To the south-east of Corso Vittorio Emanuele lies the intellectual and cultural heart of the city. Kalsa is Arabi in its origins. It's one of the oldest parts of Palermo, and still home to many tourist attractions, such as the 13th century church of St Francis of Assisi, a Romanesque-Gothic gem of a minor basilica. But it's the artisan shops selling local specialities, the trendy bars and cafes filled with young people discussing everything important – or not quite so – under the Sicilian sun that makes Kalsa such an interesting place to visit.
5. Teatro Massimo
Famous for the near perfect acoustic of the theater's horseshoe-shaped hall, Teatro Massimo dates back to the latter part of the 19th century. Built in an eye-catching neoclassical style, the theater is Italy's largest and unmissable from the skyline of Palermo. With its imposing dome and flight of steps leading up to a grand entrance flanked by bronze lions, Teatro Massimo offers visitors guided tours throughout the year. There is also a library that is open to the public, a coffee room and bookshop. Teatro Massimo is located at Piazza Verdi (www.teatromassimo.it). It's open from Tuesdays to Sundays, from 10.00 am to 3.00 pm. The library is open from 9.30 am to 1.30 pm from Mondays to Fridays, and from 3.00 pm to 5.00 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The coffee shop is closed on Mondays, the rest of the week it is open from 10.00 am to 3.00 pm.
Once Palermo's tourist attractions have been "exhausted", there are numerous towns and villages offering up more of Sicily's heritage on a plate: there are the seafood restaurants in picturesque seaside towns like Terrasini and Cinisi on the Castellammare Gulf – not to mention the surfing and sailing – or lovely cafes in the medieval streets of Cefalù, or the culinary delights of Scopello in the province of Trapani. The small seaside village was reputedly the setting for Homer's adventures of Ulysses.
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