Sicily, The Historic Centre of Palermo

Palermo Sicily

If you haven’t seen Sicily you haven’t seen Italy. Sicily is where the soul of Sicily is.” – Goethe

Actually as it turned out we hadn’t chosen our first little walk very well at all because the city became much nicer now with more interesting things to see as we walked first for a short way along the Via Roma and then through narrow streets to the Via Maqueda, which was another east-west arterial road that ran parallel to it that was lined with Palaces, Churches and Museums.

This was once the old Arab quarter of the city with a typical maze of narrow streets and blind alleys and Arab architecture including the San Cataldo chapel built with a series of arches and topped with three characteristic crimson domes.  This is also the civic centre of the City and we visited the Palazzo delle Aquile, which is the site of the Town Hall and the Fontana Pretoria, which is an impressive fountain, decorated with nude statues.  In more prudish times it was called the ‘fountain of shame’ but I thought that they were rather nice.

We walked further along this road and as we left the palaces and grand buildings behind we entered a commercial area of the town with streets and shops set out in a medieval fashion of distinct areas for similar trades rather as they do in the Souks of North Africa.

There was a street made up entirely of hardware stores and another of dressmakers and fabric salesmen but most unusual of all was the street of bicycle shops.  It seems an odd way to arrange shops with all of the direct competition trading side by side but at least that must make it a whole lot easier for the customer and everyone seemed to be getting on well enough and enjoying the affable arrangement.

Palermo Street Market

Finally we reached our destination at the western end of Via Roma, the Stazione Centrale which is an elegant tall building constructed in 1886 as the modern gateway to the city.   We checked the timetables for trains to the coast but there were none and then we tried the bus station instead but these were unhelpful so we abandoned the project and after satisfying ourselves that this was the place to catch the airport bus we walked back down Via Roma towards our hotel.

It was hot and we were ready for a drinks break so we returned to the narrow shady streets and as there was no better alternative available we selected an untidy little bar with faded plastic furniture.  A man asked us if we were eating but when we said no and asked for beers he immediately lost interest in our custom and stood moodily across the street seemingly indifferent to our request.

I began to wonder if we would get the drinks at all and was almost ready to leave when finally someone delivered two bottles and indicated that we should use the plastic cups in the middle of the table as drinking vessels.  It was a very odd place indeed.  As we sat there some young beggar girls passed close by and we took care to make sure we had a firm grip on our wallets and bags because this seemed the sort of place that a tourist might be vulnerable to theft.  They were the beggars that use the ‘look at my cute baby’ routine as a distraction while they help themselves to other people’s possessions.  The bar closed around us as we finished our drinks and feeling slightly unwelcome we left and returned to the hotel.

At the hotel Kim caught up on lost sleep and I wondered what to do about alcohol.  The mini-bar prices were higher than I was prepared to pay so I decided to take a walk to the shops to find a supermarket.  I was stunned to discover that the wine shops were all closed for the siesta period so I had to walk further than at first intended to find one.  I thought this was very strange, especially so because all of the useless shops (shoes, fashion, souvenirs and the like) were still doing business but the wine outlets were closed just at the time when people are most likely to want alcohol.  Finally I found somewhere, made my purchases at prices that suit my budget and returned to the hotel to enjoy it.

The hotel restaurant was closed for redecoration so later that evening we walked a short distance to a nearby restaurant with pavement tables full of people enjoying substantial meals so we selected a table and made our choice from the tourist menu with the assistance of the owner who insisted on going through every option in a loud and theatrical style so that none of our fellow diners were left in any doubt about our selection.

It was a good meal but the staff worked with an attentive urgency that made the experience a bit brisk and it was all over a little too quickly.  I suppose that if you are eating at modest prices the restaurant needs as many customers as possible and more covers means less time for hanging around.

Palermo Sicily Post Office

6 responses to “Sicily, The Historic Centre of Palermo

  1. I went to Palermo as well when I was in Sicily. We were only there for a day and a half, so we felt a tad rushed. During our time we went up to Monreale and it was my favorite part. Did you have a chance to see that city? It’s beautiful!

  2. I always fancied Sicily but you’re not selling it, so far.

  3. Pingback: Travels in Italy, Graffiti and A Load of Baloney | Have Bag, Will Travel

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