Old favorites, new favorites, and fireworks!

Palermo Travel Blog

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The street concert raged on again last night, until just after 1:00 am. Rob was so tired that he was falling asleep despite this and I had earplugs so, it really wasn’t a problem.


Rob got up and showered, allowing me another 30 minutes of sleep. I was up and ready shortly after. We had our tasty morning pastries that Giorgio had left for us and some orange juice.


I had ambitious plan for the day so, we needed to get moving as I had already slowed us down by 30 minutes. The problem with sightseeing in Palermo is that many of the desirable churches and museums have limited opening hours.

They have morning hours of 8:30am to 9:30am, all closing around 12:30pm. Only some open for afternoon visits from 2:00pm to 2:30pm and then closing for the day at 5:00pm to 5:30pm. So, if you have many things that you want to see, you are racing from place to place. This makes it difficult to visit more than a couple of places in a day.


So, out first stop was to be the Palazzo Abatellis, but on the way we were walking past Santa Maria della Ammiraglio and saw that it was open. It is locally known as La Martorana in memory of Eloisa della Martorana, founded the nearby Benedictine convent. It had been closed the previous day and was a must as I had been here last time. It is probably my favorite church in Palermo. It has a derivative Baroque exterior and a Gothic looking tower. On the same site is the Cataldo, a triple domed Arab domed church built in the 12th century.

We went into


 La Martorana, along with several groups of elderly tourists.


I have spoken about this church in my June 2009 blog and now visiting it a second time, I still feel that it is just fantastic. Mosaic tiles and rich frescoes cover every inch of ceiling, walls, and columns. I for a second time, now, I took many detailed shots of elements of this space that call to me. Every scene pulls me into its rich history and tells me the story that the artist wants me to know. The whole interior is like a book with its many chapters, all deserving a second look for there is always something more to discover. I had taken many, many shots but had been unable to take some wide angle shots due to the large crowd. We decided to leave and come back after the Palazzo. Upon leaving we discover that Santa Caterina’s doors are open. I’m really excited now.

We have to come back for an inspection of this jewel. Both close a t 12:30pm. We are on the move!




So, we continue to Palazzo. It would be the farthest distance for the day and everything else would be closer. We reach it only to find out that it was closed for renovation and would reopen in November. Giorgio tells us that they have been pushing the reopening date forward for 6 months.


So, disappointed, we decided to visit a large Baroque church that we had passed on the way.  If is of classic Baroque style but is very grand in scale. It has a large round window in the center (with sunburst detail) of the upper section that has detail that I’ve never seen in baroque.

Its color is a rich brown tone that is very attractive. The interior is Baroque splendor with heavy plaster detailing, gilding, and beautiful frescoes telling of biblical tales and stories of faith. The use of color is magnificent. There was an unusual shrine in the back that was newer and seemed to have construction mainly of crumpled paper painted brown and made to look aged. It was a bit out of place here. The large paintings that adorned the cathedral are of a more serious tone than those of the frescoes.


I was particularly taken with the wall of relics. I have seen many relics enshrined in bejeweled objects but, this was a huge wall section. At the bottom was saint and it was obviously a wax head but, the hands and feet seemed to show real bones we think. The wall had 28 different sections with “relics” from saints.


On either corner of the altar, there where statues that made the rounds when it was time for religious festivals.

There were pictures near the doors that showed them making their way through the streets. On the altar, the X is made of lapis lazuli and accents of green and red marble.


The rear of the church, usual less ornate was striking in a different way. It has a large gilded fan grate that runs from the top of the mouldings to the round ceiling with decorative grates in sections below in between the white and gilded panels. The church had no plaque with the name on it and I have been unable to find the name on the internet.


Now back to La Martorana and getting my wide angle shots of the church. As we walked up, there were clouds moving in and the buildings looked more dramatic so I took a few more shots.


When I walked up the stairs to Santa Caterina across the street to get the shot, I noticed that its doors were open.

As it wasn’t open the previous day or when I was here before, we wanted to see inside. There was a charge of 2 euro each.


Once inside, I was astounded. The Baroque splendor of the previous church pales in comparison and that’s really hard to do. The level of detailing moved up the scale by a factor of 5, at least. Each of the columns had panels on the bottom sections with beautiful stories told in relief, in amazing detail. There were many crystal chandeliers and one large wooden chandelier hanging from the center dome.


A short walk across the piazza and we were back at La Martorana but, first I went to get some shots from the other side of La Cataldo. While getting a few shots, Rob noticed people walking funneling into the area along the left side of it. I had been here before and knew of nothing there so, we had to investigate. OMG, the doors to La Cataldo were open.

It was my lucky day. I was so excited. I would finally get to see inside one of the Arab domed churches.


The church is small simple with no painted frescoes or mosaics but, warm and intimate. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I will cherish the visit. There windows have an orthodox similarity to them with circles but there are also, stars and crosses. It is very creative for 1000 years old. The floor has a fantastic design in mosaics that is original to the build. They had a pendant of the special cross and a medallion with the cross on one side and San Cataldo on the other. I bought one of each as they are quite unique.  I took a picture of the crosses on the front door. There is a cross with a cross in each corner. It reminds me of the flag of Georgia.


It had started to sprinkle while we were inside and it seemed to be picking up so we held out a bit under the bell tower.

We decided that our time was more valuable and we were surely not going to melt. We went out into the rain.


We needed to get moving as we wanted to go to Cappella Palatina which would open, again at 2:00 pm. It was now just after 12:30 pm and we were hungry for lunch. Rob had found a recommendation and we were in search of Trattoria Shanghui.  We headed through Piazza Bellini past the fountain and down Corso Vittorio Emmanuele to the Via Roma.  We ducked down a staircase onto a side street which should have lead us to the restaurant. We discovered a street market and a street under reconstruction.  Rob thought we needed to take that street but was not happy about walking the rough street.  We took the one parallel to it through the market and ended up at the Piazza Domenico. Frustrated Rob decided we needed to go back down the market street to reach the intended eatery.

  As we passed a place I looked at the menu of a place named La Macaronia and suggested we just eat there.  Rob was more than happy to go along. 


We were seated close to the entrance and ordered our food.  As we discussed the rest of the day the need to buy stamps and send the postcards came up.  Rob volunteered to go to the post office which was really close while we waited for the food to come.  He headed out and I stayed and reviewed the books.  My appetizer (ricotta wrapped in eggplant strips and breadcrumbs) came while he was gone and it was delicious.  When he got back out pasta course came and we were both very happy with it. I had a simple pasta with pomodoro  fresco.

  Then Rob’s meat course called Sausage Fantasy came.  It was sausage with grilled vegetables.  He devoured it.  Time was getting short so we paid and headed out.  I for got to take a picture of the restaurant sign and didn’t get a card.


We retraced our path down the market street to the Via Roma and then on to Vittorio Emmanuele.  Along the way I glanced down a side street and saw a georgous tiled dome of a church. I took a picture and we moved on.  Before we went to the Cappella Palatina, I wanted to check and see if my tower with the great views was open.  We walked to the Piazza Normanni and saw someone in the tower.  I was ecstatic and headed off like a shot.

  Rob trailed behind tired and wanting caffeine.


We got to the tower and the man taking the money fitted us with hardhats and explained we only got to go up in the tower and not the church or gardens. I put on my hat on easily as I had hit my head on the previous visit.  On the way up there were some pretty low points.  I managed to bang my head (thank goodness for the hat) a few times.  Rob managed to avoid it.  When we emerged into the bell tower I was still amazed by the view. I was so happy that I had made it here, again. It was a highlight of my previous trip. Up there I felt like I was one with the city as I looked over it. You can see all the way to Monte Pelligrino and along the coast. Luckily the clouds had cleared and we had great opportunities for pictures.  In one direction Rob noticed some aviaries in a park.

  We took a few minutes to enjoy the view and take in the beauty. Then we had to get moving so see more.


We headed back up the hill to the Palazzo Normani, where we thought the entrance to the Cappella Palatina is located.  We were wrong.  A sign explained that accessible form Piazza Independince.  We headed around through the Porta Nuevo.  Once we passed through I noticed the other side of the gate had the statues that were pictured in the book.  We would get pictures later.  It was starting to rain as we got to the entrance of Cappella Palatina.  There was tour bus full of people in line to enter.  We managed to get the tickets for a fee of 8.50 euros each and head up ahead of the crowd.

  We entered the chapel and were dazzled by a room of mosaic stories full of color and surrounded by golden tile. It was fantastic. This was the royal chapel for the Norman kings of Sicily. It was built in 1180. There are scenes from the old and new testaments with Latin inscriptions. The wooden ceiling of the central is Islamic in origin and painted with profane subjects. These pieces are more narrative and illustrative than transcendental. A few mosaics have a secular character and represent oriental flora and fauna. There is also a group of Islamic stars that form a christian cross on the ceiling. This was a way for the Arab craftsman to leave their mark. This may be the only substantial passage of secular Byzantine mosaic existance today.  As we were enjoying what seemed like a million people came in.  I wanted to see if they had a book on the mosaics as there was so much detail.  We found a huge and beautiful book on Sicily, which Rob insisted we get.
  It is a huge book that is filled with the religion, art, culture, and architecture of this land. He also picked up a couple of cookbooks filled with recipes for tasty Sicilian treats. 


The book weighed a lot so we headed back to the room to drop it and our other purchases off and get umbrellas as it was still raining off and on. We felt better after resting for a few minutes and were off to the Palermo Cathedral.


 We entered the main hall and bought tickets.  First stop was the rare tombs. Here are the remains of Emperor Henry VI, his son Frederick II, as well as those of Peter II of Sicily. A Roman sarcophagus is the tomb of Constance of Aragon, Frederick's wife.



The treasury was next.  It contains goblets, vestments, monstrances, a 14th century breviary and the famous Crown of Constance of Sicily, a golden tiara found in her tomb in 1491


After the treasury we were going to the crypts and could hear the rain outside.  We could also feel it in the tower room we were in as the roof was obviously not watertight.  Just as I was getting ready to snap a picture there was a crackle of thunder and then the lights went out.  We waited around for them to be restored and then headed down to the crypts.

  It is an evocative room with cross vault supported by granite columns, housing tombs and sarcophagi of Roman, Byzantine and Norman ages. People buried here include archbishops Walter Ophamil, the church's founder, and Giovanni Paternò, patron of Antonello Gagini who sculpted the image on his tomb. For a crypt, I will have to say, that it was very fascinating.


After this we wondered around the main cathedral. It is not richly adorned and is mostly monochromatic and a soothing color.


 Exhausted we headed back towards the room via the Porta Nuevo to get pictures.  It was still raining.  We braved the traffic to get the pictures and then headed on to the room.

We were both a little hungry at this point so we stopped at the store below the guest house.  The girls working there could not understand vegetarian until Rob pointed to the right phrase in the guide book, which was vegitariano ( so different ).  Then we got something I could eat. ….pizza.


Food in hand,we headed upstairs and chatted with Giorgio for a little bit while we ate.  Then I began work on the blog and Rob read his book, helping when I needed it.


We went out with Giorgio and a guy form France for a light snack and some light sightseeing.  Giorgio showed us the area around Teatro Massimo.

It is a fantastic building especially lit up at night. It has a very different feel than the area around the guesthouse. Rob really enjoyed different scenery. We were so tired.  The company was good and the conversation lively.  The restaurant was very nice and relaxing. Giorgio always knows the best places to go.

Giorgio drove us back to the guest house and we were happy and shocked not to hear music.  That didn’t last for long as I began to work on the pictures and blog for the day, the noise started again.  At around 12:30 and again at 12:45 there were massive amounts fireworks set off. It was amazing that a street party had the funds for such a thing.


  We had to get up early the next morning.

We had to return to the airport and pick up another car for the trip across the island to Caccamo, Cefalu, and then Catania.


I knew that, at least at Claudia’s there would be quiet and I would have a more restful sleep.

jessica0606 says:
too many beautiful pics!
Posted on: Oct 04, 2009
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