Welcome to Palermo's favourite online travel guide! Experience the REAL Sicily!
Sponsored Link
Follow us on...

Palatine Chapel
Monreale Abbey
Palermo Cathedral
Martorana - St Cataldo
Zisa, Cuba, Steri
Palazzo Steri
Capuchin Catacombs
Castles & Palaces
Ancient Archeology
Gardens & Parks

Opera Houses

Madonie Mts.
Wine Country

News & Events

Sponsored Links

Personalized sightseeing in a timeless city.
Personal guided sightseeing in a timeless city. Beyond the superficial. Tours of Palermo at your own pace.

See a secret side of Palermo.
Palermo's Judaic heritage is carved in stone. See it with an exclusive tour of Jewish Palermo.

Take a great tour of Sicily!
Unique tours of Sicily for 2014 and 2015. Weekly tours around Sicily, day tours, independent travel packages and much more. Shore excursions too! Visit our Sicily tours page for more information.

Cooking classes in Palermo.
It's more than artichokes and red wine! Enjoy learning to cook classic, and not so classic, Sicilian dishes with the staff of Cin-Cin, one of Palermo's finest restaurants. More 
than artichokes. Discover real Sicilian cuisine!From market to table! Visit our site for more information. (Above: Fritella, made with fave, artichokes, peas and virgin olive oil)



Welcome to the world's most conquered city!
A multicultural legacy in one timeless place where North meets South and East meets West

A hilltop medieval castle and town built on an ancient Phoenician city.The jewel in the crown: A unique city boasting the treasures of Punic, Norman, Arab, Byzantine and Swabian culture.Archeological site of a hilltop city built by Phoenicians and resettled by Greeks and Romans.Seaside town with a splendid medieval cathedral and ruins of a mountaintop fortress in the shadow of the Madonie Mountains.Best preserved Greek temple in the world. Archeological site of Elymian-Greek city, with hilltop amphitheatre.Overlooking Palermo, a splendid cathedral and cloister built by Norman kings has Byzantine and Arab elements.Archeological site of an important city of the ancient Hellenic world, outside Termini Imerese.Discover the beautiful countryside beyond the city of Palermo.Sicily's enchanting wine country is endless vineyards upon rolling hills.This nature preserve, built around the hunting grounds of Sicily's 19th-century Bourbon kings, has a hunting lodge and a hospital for birds of prey.Hilltop castle of a Norman baron in a charming country town overlooking valleys of the Sicilian interior.Scenic mountains of northern 
Sicily include the highest peaks after Etna.
Move the cursor over the name of a place to read about it.

I.t's in the air. Monreale's Norman-Arab architecture.And in the splendid churches, castles and palaces. A touch of the Classical with a taste of the Medieval and the Baroque. Even the food is a polyglot cacophony of flavours from every era: Phoenician, Greek, Carthaginian, Roman, Gothic, Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Swabian, Angevin, Aragonese. Palermo has been home to Phoenician traders, Roman patricians, Arab emirs, Norman kings and at least two medieval Holy Roman Emperors, and the spirit of each lives on.

A Style of Diversity
What is Palermo? This eclectic crossroads of Mediterranean and northern European civilization is more than a museum. It's a vibrant — even chaotic — city whose unique culture has been forged and molded by three millennia of history emerging from three continents. There's no other place on earth like Palermo, and to discover the history of this singular city is to experience something of the diverse worlds that have created something which has evolved into its own culture.

The streets of old Palermo are an intriguing labyrinth of outdoor markets, subtle niches and long-forgotten secrets — almost a subculture unto themselves. After nine centuries street markets still evoke the atmosphere of Arab souks. Only the Baroque churches and palazzi on the same narrow streets remind you that you're in Italy, but then "Italy" has existed as a modern concept only since the middle of the nineteenth century; Sicily — ruled from Palermo as a Fatimid emirate and then as a Norman kingdom — transcends this by many centuries.

Palermo's Norman Palace epitomizes the city's heritage of diversity. It was built by the Normans upon the foundations of an Arab castle, al-Kasr. This, in turn, had been constructed in the ninth century on the site of a Punic (Phoenician-Carthaginian) structure. The Normans' first chapel, built in the Romanesque style very late in the eleventh century, is now the "crypt" beneath the Palatine Chapel of Visit our LARGE map for details.the twelfth century. Today all can be visited.

Beyond the "Golden Shell"
Of course, no royal capital ever survived on its own, separated from the rural environs that nourished it, and some of the places around Palermo are not to be overlooked: Segesta and its ancient Greek temple, hilltop Erice with its Punic walls and medieval fortress, seaside Cefalù and its medieval cathedral, Caccamo with its baronial castle on a mountain, and much more. Monreale Abbey is right next door, and the Phoenician-Greek-Roman colony of Solunto is just twenty minutes outside town.

Palermitans call it the "Conca d'Oro," as though it were a golden seashell of orange groves and lemon orchards in the plains encircling this sprawling metropolis and lazily extending to the base of the rocky mountains that give the city so much of its rugged character.

Beyond this, there's a subtle world of streams, small lakes and rolling hills against the backdrop of steep peaks. There's the Ficuzza Woods to the south, the Madonie Mountains to the east and Sicily's Wine Country to the west toward Marsala.

Peopling of an Island
The earliest inhabitants of Sicily came to be known as the Sikanians, and from them the island inherited its most ancient name, Sikania. Then came the Sicels and Elymians; it was the latter who founded the city which came to be called Egesta and then Segesta. The Phoenicians founded Palermo, which they seem to have called called Zis, as a trading post, joining Motya and Soluntum. Palermo was much contested during the Greek and Roman wars against Carthage. The Greeks and Romans called it Panormos, meaning "all port," but under the Byzantine Greeks Panormus was less important than Syracuse, the principal Sicilian city on the remote frontier of Constantinople's influence. It was under the Arabs that, as Bal'harm, the city grew and prospered as never before, becoming one of the Muslim world's most splendid cities, surpassed in its opulence only by Baghdad. During this period Sicily's population probably doubled, with numerous towns being founded, particularly in the interior.

The Golden Age
The Normans' arrival in 1071 ushered in a "golden age" which lasted until the death of Frederick II in 1250. New castles were built as feudalism was introduced, along with "western" Christianity (Catholicism), but the Norman and Swabian kings generally respected the religious rights of all Siclians: Normans, Byzantines, Arabs, Jews. By 1282, at the time of the Vespers uprising, this remarkable age of tolerance was little more than a fond memory. Pastoral harmony of Segesta's temple.Most of Palermo's Byzantine (Orthodox) Christians, and most Muslims, were by now Roman Catholic, and the Jews who did not leave had converted by 1495.

With the introduction of Aragonese rule Sicily found itself firmly rooted in the West, and Spanish rule followed. Sicily, of course, remained a kingdom, though just one of many dominions of the kings of Spain. Palermo became a seat of the Inquisition. If the Renaissance made few inroads here, the Baroque certainly did, and indeed art historians refer to an architectural style called "Sicilian Baroque."

A Taste of Sicily
Whatever you do in Palermo, even if you're here for only a day, don't overlook the local cuisine. Sicilian food bears the mark of medieval influences. The Arabs introduced sugar cane, rice and certain citrus fruits, and the strong flavors of caponata (aubergine and caper salad), arancine (filled rice balls), cassata and cannoli (both filled with a sweet ricotta cream) are tasty testaments to the kind of culinary culture which evolves only over the course of centuries. Artichokes, harvested in winter and spring, are thought to be native to Sicily, while lamb and swordfish are so popular that they might almost be considered "national" dishes.

Top of Page

© 2008-2014 Best of Sicily Travel Guide. Used by permission.

Print this page now...Print this page


Getting Around
City Map
Planes, Trains, Buses
Palermo Weather
Convert Currency
Maps & Charts
Hotels in Sicily
Pastry Bars
Pubs & Wine Bars
Street Markets
Shopping & Arts
Internet & Mobile
FAQs & Safety
Palermo Tour Guides
Palermo Links

The Cuisine
Sicilian Wine
Palermo's History
Punic Palermo
Historic Timeline
King Roger II
Frederick II
Faiths of Sicily
Jewish Palermo
Peoples of Sicily
Sicilian Baroque
Romanesque Gothic
Norman Arab Byzantine

About Us
Email Us

Published in Italy.

Sponsored Links

Great tours every week!
Scheduled, weekly excursions from central Palermo for: Segesta, Erice and Piazza Armerina. No need to drive or get around by train or bus. Just join one of our Day Tours of Sicily!

Departures from Port of Palermo.
Shore excursions from Palermo. Tour Palermo, Segesta or Cefalù. Visit our Palermo excursion site for details on great sightseeing.

Visit Tarantola!
Stay at a working winery near Alcamo in the hills of Sicily's enchanting wine country. Visit our site for more information.