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The sights, sounds and smells of Palermo

creato da Ventrix ultima modifica 20/06/2008 15:10

Palermo is a cultural crossroads between east and west, north and south. Poignant, pungent and powerful, Palermo is a city of contrasts, vivid colours, strong smells and deep sounds. Let's visit the Kalsa and Vucciria market.

To go into the Kalsa (from the Arab khalisa meaning 'pure'), the erstwhile citadel built by the Saracens before 1000 AD, is to take a step back in time. The area is teeming with important monuments and buildings, wonderful churches and noble homes, many of which still bear the signs of the allied bombings during the second world war.

The Kalsa
Once in the Kalsa you should visit Palazzo Abatellis in Via Alloro 4, which houses the Regional Art Gallery. There is a considerable collection of paintings on display (mostly from the Sicilian School and dating from the XIIth to XVIIIth centuries) the highlight of which is undoubtedly "Death's triumph", the fresco which reputedly inspired Picasso to paint Guernica. Don't miss Annunziata by Antonello da Messina before you go on your way.
Just down the road from the gallery, between Via Lungarini and Via Merlo, is Palazzo Mirto, a town house from the 1600s which is now a museum, complete with original furnishing and decorations including an antique Chinese leather suite, tapestries, a painting by Velasquez and beautiful wooden ceilings. Walking on you'll soon reach Piazza Marina with its ornate garden and giant "Ficus magnolide". Botanists will want to visit the Botanical Gardens in Via Lincoln, near the Foro Italica - by the sea, where they can view even more of these magnificent trees. The garden is open all day (except Sunday) and makes for a pleasant stroll in the shade.
But staying in Piazza Marina, we'll pay a visit to Palazzo Chiaromonte, now part of the University but once the seat of the terrible Inquisition Tribunal in 1601. For decades executions were carried out in the adjoining gardens. At this stage we're due a rest and where better than in one of the square-front restaurants. We recommend "Il crudo e il cotto": for its wonderful starters and pasta courses with aubergine, basil, mint, fennel and fish or "La cambusa", which is slightly more expensive but offers a wider choice of dishes.

Vucciria market
Was that good? Now it's time to head on towards Palermo's colourful market, La Vucciria. If you leave Piazza Marina with the sea behind you you'll reach Corso Vittorio Emanuele, just before Via Maqueda on the right you should see (hear and smell) the market once immortalised by the painter Renato Guttuso. Here the colours, flavours and voices of Palermo come together in a sensual medley second to none. Stall-holders will try to entice you to buy their wares - from freshly caught fish to luscious vegetables and pungent spices. Food stalls sell an array of sandwiches filled with just about anything you can fry: panelle, chickpea fritters, aubergines, octopus - the list is endless. If you prefer to sit while you're eating try the "Trattoria Shanghai", which, despite its Chinese name, serves traditional Sicilian food. As you sit supping overlooking the market you'll be forgiven for thinking you're in the middle of Shanghai, or Casablanca or...

From "Cane di terracotta" by Andrea Camilleri "They went to Vucciria. Livia was dazed and dismayed by all the voices, the invitations, the cries of the hawkers, the talking, the contradictions, the sudden brawls all surrounded by colours so vivid they seemed artificial, as if they had just been painted. The smell of fresh fish mingled with mandarin, sweetbreads of lamb, boiled then sprinkled with cheese, traditionally cooked spleen, fried vegetables, coming together in an inimitable, almost magical, blend."

Our journey through Palermo continues with
Palermo - cultural crossroads

Sicily - - All you need to know before leaving for Sicily.
More on Palermo
: - Paolo Briguglia 's Hundred Steps

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