Its Arab name was al khalisa meaning ‘the pure part’ and it was originally the fortified citadel where the emir and his ministers lived. South East of Corso Vittorio Emanuele and one of the oldest quarters of the city, it was destroyed by bombing in the Second World War and loving, long term restoration work is now under way.Turn on to the Corso in a westward direction and you’ll soon get to the thirteenth century Chiesa di San Francesco and, in the square, to the Antica Focacceria which has been serving up its street food and house specialities to passersby since 1834 – but we’re mentioning it here as the first of many Palermo businesses whose owners have had the courage to oppose Mafia demands for pizzo or protection money.
Go back towards the sea, pass through Piazza Marina and near it, at the corner of Via Butera, next to the Garibaldi Public Gardens you’ll find the puppet museum Museo delle Marionette. Back in the square again take advantage of a little shade under the gardens’ ancient trees and the wonderful aristocratic houses around you and Palazzo Chiaramonte in particular.
Then head straight towards Porta Felice, follow Foro Italico for a while and turn into Via Alloro. In Piazza Kalsa is Palazzo Abatellis now site of the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia, Sicily’s art gallery, which contains a painting by Antonello da Messina, his famous Annunciazione of 1473, which makes a visit worthwhile on its own.Further on cinema buffs will want to visit Palazzo Gangi where the legendary dance scene in Visconti’s Il Gattopardo was filmed.
If you turn left onto Via Aragona you’ll come to the crossroads with Via Magione with its Church built in 1150 and carefully restored to its original form, the most beautiful example of Sicilian-Norman art on the island.
This is a good place for an evening out too – young people meet up in the area between Via Magione and nearby Via Spasimo.
A short walk takes you to the Giardino Botanico di Villa Giulia which Goethe loved so much. You’ll see why.
➔ Where to sleep: B&B Casa Degli Artisti