This is one of the most famous Arab-Norman monuments in Palermo. Its simple, square forms which enclose perfect cubes of spaces rise to a red roof with five squat domes echoing the profile of San Cataldo not far away , are clearly the work of Moorish craftsmen. The interior, simple and bare, is shaped into a latin-cross plan: the central space is divided into two halves above which hover two domes. The transept is sub-divided into three, each part contained by a dome; the south bay rising first to become a bell-tower that is then capped by a dome.
Today, only the delightful little 13th century cloister with its paired columns remains. Excavations conducted in one part of the garden have revealed the remains of Roman patrician houses containing mosaics featuring the seasons and Orpheus, now housed in the Museo Archeologico Regionale see below. Palazzo Sclafani — The front of the building dating from the s , overlooking Piazzetta San Giovanni Decollato, is ornamented with fine Gothic two-light windows within interlacing arches so typical of the Arabo-Norman style, and an elegant cusped doorway surmounted by the royal eagle.
It is from this palazzo that the famous fresco The Triumph of Death was tranferred to the Galleria Regionale di Sicilia. It was built in the late 12th century in the Sicilian norman style, but has undergone considerable alteration over the centuries. A notable addition from the 15th century is the Catalan Gothic south porch with, on the outermost wall, the symbols of the four Evangelists St. The Neo-Classical dome was added in the 18th century when the interior was also completely refurbished.
The original fabric of the building, however, can still be seen in the apses which retain their typical yet effective geometric decoration. Tesoro — Entrance from the south transept. The Treasury contains a fine carved ivory staff made in Sicily in the 17th century and various jewels belonging to Queen Constanza of Aragon. Among these, are various rings and the magnificent Imperial gold crown set with precious stones, pearls and enamels. Crypt — A number of tombs from different periods are preserved in the crypt, a large proportion belonging to former bishops.
Note the classical Roman sarcophagus decorated with the figures of nine muses, Apollo, and a seated man wearing a toga. Chiesa del SS. The interior is richly decorated in the Baroque style complete with polychrome marble and stucco. Within the dome, may be discerned gragments of a large fresco of the Triumph of St. Basil Today, the church is principally used as an auditorium. In the centre of the piazza is a statue of Charles V, the Spanish monarch. The niches of the middle storey harbour statues of the four Spanish kings of Sicily, those at the upper level contain effigies representing the patron saints of Palermo: St.
Christina, St. Ninfa, St. Oliva and St. Agatha who was subsequently replaced by St. The crossroads also marks the four districts into which, at one time, Palermo was divided: Palazzo Reale, Mezzomonreale, Castellammare and Oreto, each being entrusted to one of the four female patron saints. Spouting water brings the whole to life animating it with sparkling light, yet never upsetting the balance of the composition; a rare quality typically often found in Tuscan Renaissance works of art.
The top basin is divided into four sections, below each is a smaller bowl which, in turn, is overlooked by one of the four allegories of the rivers of Palermo: Gabriele, Maredolce, Papireto and Oreto. Among the statuettes guarding the ramps is Ceres, the classical patroness of Sicily, who holds a sheaf of wheat and a horn of plenty. The wrought-iron railing surrounding the fountain is by Giovan Battista Basile.
The Piazza is confined by fine buildings: to one side rises the dome of Santa Caterina, on the south axis stands the Palazzo Pretorio also known as Palazzo Senatorio or Palazzo delle Aquile , the City Hall. Across the road is the Chiesa di San Giuseppe ai Teatini. Since then, it has been the seat of the City Council. The entrance, especially on the inside, is ornamented with a profusion of Baroque elements , including spiralling columns; beyond lies an attractive courtyard with a monumental staircase up to the piano nobile.
Here, on the first floor, there is a shallow relief on the left of a crowned Ceres, a homage to the patroness of Sicily. A glass case on the right contains some fine weapons and scabbards inlaid with gold and mother of pearl belonging to Napoleon Bonaparte. The most eye-catching element is the original campanile which rises to an octagonal section with spiral columns at the top. The sides are ornamented with flaming vases. The interior, in the form of a Latin cross, is theatrical, endowed as it is with a majestic ceiling, a stunning array of white and gold stucco decoration and frescoes on a agrand scale.
Each aisle bay is capped with a small round dome, itself encrusted with stucco. Set diagonally from the rear wall are two fine organ cases. Piazza Bellini — This small square is contained by three churches: Santa Caterina currently under restoration , La Martorana and San Cataldo which, with its three red domes, endows the place with an eastern feel. La Martorana — Named after Eloisa Martorana who, in , founded the nearby Benedictine convent, serving as its chapel. The main entrance is through a fine portico-cum-bell-tower, articulated by three orders of columns and double arch openings.
At one time, this was free-standing; it was the same time as the apse was replaced by a square choir. Mass is celebrated according to the Greek Orthodox dogma. Interior — The building is divided into two parts. Filling the nave dome is Christ Pantocrator surrounded by the three Archangels St. Michael, St. Gabriel, St. Raphael and St. In the register below are eight prophets and in the pendentives, the four Evangelists.
In the nave vault may be seen the Nativity on the left and the Death Dormition of the Virgin. Chiesa di San Cataldo — This church is the main seat of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, was built during the Norman period 12th century. The austere interior is articulated into three aisles by antique columns from more ancient buildings. The nave is crowned with three domes, each supproted on squinches.
The polychrome marble paving is original. Palazzo Comitini — Via Maqueda. The palazzo built for Prince of Gravina incorporates two older ones belonging to the Roccafiorita-Bonanno and Gravina di Palagonia families. The building was radically altered in with the addition of another floor for use as the administrative of the Province of Palermo. Sadly, the tiled floor is in a poor condition. It was here that they founded their first church, although this was considerably altered before arriving at its presernt form at the end of the same century.
Sadly, the church suffered serious damage during the bombing of and has been partially rebuilt. The chancel decor executed by the Serpotta brothers is especially fine, populated as it is with a euphoric display of cherubs engaged in all manner of activities: gathering grapes, holding garlands of flowers, torches, musical instruments, rulers, set squares, and lances with which they pierce devils. The second chapel on the right has two fine paintings by Pietro Novelly: St.
Philip of Agira and St. Paul the Hermit. The sacristy is furnished with a splendidly carved cupboard 16th century. Next to the church stands Casa Professa, housing the municipal library which contains a large number of incunabula and manuscripts. The first and second room reading rooms are hung with the portraits of illustrious men. Before entering the church, it is worth taking the time to admire from afar the splendid tile-covered dome supported by four giant Atlas figures.
Inside the church, the two most interesting features are the sumptuous altars in the transepts, decorated with pairs of golden twisting columns on which spirals of stucco tell the story of the life of the Virgin Mary on the left and on Christ on the right. They are the work of Giacomo and Giuseppe Serpotta.
Works under MDS 945.823
The quarter grew up during the period of Islamic domination around the fortified citadel where the emir and his ministers lived, preserving its original name al Halisah, meaning the elect, the pure. Even today, an unusual Oriental atmosphere pervades the place, accentuated by the presence of monuments the Arab-Norman style. Centrally located and densely populated, the neighbourhood offers an intriguing insight into Palermo life. For example, on passing before the Chiesa di St. Teresa it is not unusual to encounter some local engaged in cooking and selling babbaluci, tiny snails marinated in oil, parsley, garlic and peper and sold in paper cornets to passers-by.
The heart of the quarter. The main entrance to the quarter appears to be Porta dei Greci beyond which lies the Piazza and the church of St. Today, most of the elegant palazzi that once lined the thoroughfare have, sadly, either been destroyed or have fallen into disrepair. The few surviving buildings include Palazzo Abatellis which accommodates the Galleria Regionale di Sicilia, and, next to it the lovely Chiesa della Gancia. Galleria Regionale di Sicilia — The regional art gallery is housed in Palazzo Abatellis, a magnificent Catalan Gothic building with some Renaissance features, designed by Matteo Carnelivari who was active in Palermo towards the end of the 15th century.
Its elegant front has a great square central doorway ornamented with fasces literally faggots , and a series of two- and three-light windows. Within, the palazzo is arranged around an attractive square courtyard. For each important work of art, the designer has contrived a tailor-made solution in terms of support and background, using different materials and colours so as to display it in the best possible way while exploiting natural daylight to the full. The gallery collects together sculptures and paintings from the medieval period.
The first exhibit to draw attention on the ground floor is the magnificent fresco of the Triumph of Death room 2 , from the Palazzo Sclafani. The title probably refers to the thirteenth Tarot card as the cards, which were highly popular in the Middle Ages, were also known as Trionfi Triumphs. The painting shows the cruel and realistic figure of Death, astride a skeletal horse and armed with a bow and arrows, in the act of striking down men and women in the full flush of youth.
Note in particular, how colder shades of colour have been used to portray Death, the horse, and the faces of those who have been struck by his arrows. On the left, among the group of beggars and the afflicted who have been spared by the terrible rider, is painted a figure top who gazes out from the picture at the observer, the brush in his right hand denotes him to be a self-portrait of the unknown author of the picture.
The modernity with which some of the details — such as the stylised nose of the horse — have been rendered is quite extraordinary. The admirable bust of Eleonora of Aragon room IV , with its gentle expression and delicate features, together with the bust of a young woman are by the sculptor Francesco Laurana, who worked in Sicily in the 15th century. This was also when the Gagini family were active and works by them are to be found all over the island. Included in the gallery is a fine Madonna and Child by Antonello da Messina.
The first floor is entirely devoted to painting with many works from the Sicilian School. In the room devoted to Flemish painting sits the famous Malvagna Triptych by Mabuse which shows the Virgin and Child surrounded by angels singing and playing musical instruments in a lavishly decorated frame, set against an equally fabulous landscape background.
La Gancia S. The exterior retains from the original its square profile and rustication. Before entering, look out for the Buca della Salvezza on the left; this so-called Hole of Salvation was made by two patriots who had hidden in the crypt of the church during the anti-Bourbon rebellion so that they could by pulled to safety by a handful of local people.
The interior gives the impression of being Baroque although various elements date from several different periods. Among the parts of the original fabric that survive are some very fine details including an original novice monk peeping out over the top of a cornice in the chapel to the left of the altar. Complesso di S. Maria dello Spasimo — Via dello Spasimo. The church and convent were built just inside the walls of the Kalsa in Building work on the church was slow and not yet completed when the Turkish threat made it necessary to build a new bastion just behind the church.
In turn, the complex was transformed into a fortress, a theatre, a hospice for plague victims then, later, for the poor and finally a hospital; the place was abandoned in The church is to be restored while it is hoped that the old hospital will be transformed into exhibition spaces and concert venues. Beyond sits the church, the only example of northern Gothic in Sicily.
The tall, slender nave, reaches up towards the open sky without a roof perhaps never built and ends with a lovely polygonal apse. The original entrance is given prominence by a pronaos in which were installed two side chapels. The one on the left is still visible, complete with its distinctive little bulbous dome. This, in turn, provides access to the old Spanish bastion, now laid out as a garden.
The whole complex is most evocative, particularly when caught by the rays of the setting sun. In , it was conceded by Henry IV to the Order of Teutonic Knights, in whose hands it remained for more than three hundred years. The front elevation rises through three tiers of pointed arches which at the lowest level are ornamented with decorative features and enclose the doorways. The interior, divided into three aisles, is simple and austere. The church also has a fine cloister with paired columns, unfortunately severely damaged during the Second World War. Piazza della Rivoluzione — This delightful little square is so called because it was here that the anti-Bourbon rebellion of was sparked off.
In the centre is a fountain graced by the so called Genio di Palermo, who symbolises the city. The northern quarter. As it succumbed to damage, repair and alteration on successive occasions, it owes its current appearance to the fact that, the last time it was restored, great efforts were made to respect its original design. Inside, a strong sense of airiness and space, so typical of Franciscan churches, has been preserved despite subsequent structural remodelling. Of note, there are eight statues by Giovanni Serpotta, while the fine entrance doorway to the Mastrantonio Chapel is by Francesco Laurana and Pietro di Bonitate fourth chapel on the left.
Next to the church stands the Oratorio di San Lorenzo. This has unfortunately been closed for years, but it contains stucco-work by Serpotta that is considered to be the culmination of his artistic achievements. Just inside, on the left, are the fabulous stables 19th century complete with stalls and ornamental bronze horse-heads. A red marble staircase leads up to the first floor is still furnished in the main with original pieces. The next room, a small vestibule, contains a good set of 19th century Neapolitan plates decorated with people in costume; it is said that each guest was supposed to sit in front of the plate featuring their particular costume.
Leading from the vestibule is another unusual smoking-room this time panelled with painted and embossed leather, a material suited to such rooms because it does not become impregnated with smoke. The most striking element of the Pompadour sitting room is the fabulous wall silks embroidered with flowers. The mosaic floor is the only original one. The dining-room contains a Meissen service 18th century exquisitely painted with flowers and birds.
Piazza Marina — The centre of the piazza, which in itself lies at the very heart of medieval Palermo, is graced with an attractive garden, the Giardino Garibaldi, which is planted with magnificent banyan trees with their large, exposed, trunk-like roots. The piazza is enclosed on all sides by fine buildings: Palazzo Galletti no.
Vitaliano, to designs by Paolo Amato. Palazzo Chiaramonte — this splendid palazzo was built in for the Chiaramonte family, one of the wealthiest and most powerful dynasties of the Aragonese period. The building also came to be called Lo Steri, deriving from Hosterium, a fortified residence, an obvious function given its clean, square form. It passed into the hands of the Spanish viceroys, and thence, in the 17th century, served as the headquarters of the Court of the Inquisition; this situation lasted until , when the institution was abolished in Sicily.
The main front is ornamented by two tiers of elegant two- and three- light windows note the fabulous stone inlays on the underside of the arches on the first floor. The style that in essence was distilled from the Gothic, is so distinctive as to be described simply as Chiaramonte; this may be discerned in many other Sicilian civic buildings of the same period. Museo Internazionale delle Marionette — The International Puppet Museum contains a fabulously rich collection of pupi Sicilian puppets based on characters from the French chansons de geste , marionettes articulated puppets operated with strings , shadow puppets, scenery and panels from all over the world.
The second section presents the European tradition including such renowned figures as the English Punch and Judym and the non-European which comprises a vast Oriental collection: Chinese glove-puppets, string-puppets from India, Burma, Vietnam, Thailand and Africa; shadow puppets from Turkey, India and Malaysia made of leather.
All the caricatures are evocatively displayed in semi-darkness for preservation purposes as if to suggest the remoteness of their origins in the distant past and from far afield. In Room IV a hsaing waing has been arranged: this consists of a Burmese orchestra pit where, an hour before the performance, musicians used to sit and play pieces of music that constituted a symbolic rite.
The final section is dedicated to special puppets destined for a violent, spectacular death. The museum also has an active theatre details of performances are available from the museum. Palazzo Branciforte-Butera — This palazzo has been heavily restored. Its main entrance is in Via Butera, altough its main front overlooks the sea. Before it, runs a beautiful promenade and a terrace known as the Mura delle Cattive which translates as the Wall of the Wayward Ones! The massive construction was, however, badly damaged in when the new jetty was extended.
A description of the Cala quarter which extends behind the old harbour, must begin with the church, as this was where the chains that were used to close off the aree were kept through the centuries, hence its dedication to Santa Maria alla Catena. Maria alla Catena — The design of the church is attributed to Matteo Canrelivari, its elevation dominated by a broad square protico with three arches; behind these are doorways set with low reliefs by Vincenzo Gagini.
A decorative fretwork stone cornice runs along the top and sides of the portico the flight of steps in front of the church was added at a later date. The overall style is transitional Gothic-Renaissance The lovely interior is articulated by blind arcading into square bays with pointed cross-arches, the stone ribs being offset by the white vault. The chancel is lit by traceried two-light windows. The second chapel on the right harbours fragments of a frescoed Madonna, and, on the altar, symbolic chains. Jamie Oliver.
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