Walking through a city’s renaissance – A walking tour of Palermo, Sicily

Standing in the shadow of Palermo’s grand Teatro Massimo you are well aware of where you are in the world. At a point where Europe starts to blend and merge with North Africa, there’s a hint of many cultures here. There’s grand European architecture, the gritty city life which buzzes around you and there are twisting back streets to lose yourself in on your tour of Palermo.

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Much of the city has an air of a place which has tales to tell, an air of dilapidation which is utterly endearing and filled with streets and buildings which have been reclaimed from decades of crime and are being restored and re-loved.

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Together with a guide from Visit Palermo we set out on a walking tour of the city’s streets, which began with delightful watermelon pastries and coffee at a cafe on Via Bara All’Olivella, a perfect boost of energy before we set off!

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Heading away from the waterfront and into the city proper we passed vast piazzas and opulent looking buildings and along the tree-lined Via Volturno, which felt like a grand old Parisien street with stalls and vendors selling bric-a-brac.

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Close by is Via Porta Carini bursting with atmosphere and seemingly endless fruit and vegetable stalls which we passed as we twisted and turned through the bustle of city life.

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Here we began to spot amazing street art which adorns the walls of buildings, many of which clearly tell a story of the life of people living in this area.

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We climbed higher and stopped to enjoy the incredible views of the city’s Cathedral and the colourful carts of the traders which were parked up on the steep alleyways.

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It was amazing to see the city laid out below us.

We continued on to the Cattedrale di Palermo itself which had started life almost a thousand years earlier as a Norman construction, before being used as a mosque and then reverting to a cathedral and being updated in renaissance styles with towers and turrets all being added to the grand building which is stunning both inside and out.

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One of our favourite parts of the tour of Palermo was strolling away from the cathedral along Via Vittorio Emanuele which was lined with fluttering Italian flags,

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and tiny shops selling the infamous Sicilian marionettes and puppets, of historical and allegorical figures which my children loved.

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Here we stopped at Bar Liberty on Piazza Bologni dashing under the shade away from the beating sun, sipping citrus juices as horse carts gently clip clopped along the ancient streets. Further along the street we came across the Quattro Canti, an intersection where four beautiful Baroque buildings all end with facades and fountains containing statues of the four seasons. It’s a wonderful creation which is both simple and striking.

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A short step away is the Fontana Pretoria, a vast public fountain which was thought during the 18th and 19th century to be a depiction of the city’s corruption, and became known as the ‘Square of shame’ especially thanks to the state of undress of the statues!

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From here we took a stroll through the city’s streets clearly undergoing a renaissance, much like the rest of Palermo – filled with life and optimism. I loved this city and a walking tour of Palermo was the perfect way to get under its skin and see a little more of what makes it so special.

For more information about tours with Visit Palermo and their excellent local guides check out their website here.

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