INTRODUCTION TO PALERMO
Palermo is both light and dark, chiaroscuro, like a painting by Caravaggio. It is a city of many faces, a city of art, of original and memorable monuments; a historic city and tourist destination; a port and commercial centre; a university city; the seat of Regional Government; and a city of mafia and antimafia.
Jeremy Dummett, Palermo, City of Kings
Palermo, with a population of 674,000, is the largest city in Sicily and the fifth largest in Italy. The Province of Palermo contains 1.2 million of Sicily’s total population of 5 million. The modern city spreads far beyond the historic centre, extending up the valleys towards the mountains and along the coastline in both directions.
For the visitor, the interest lies in the historic centre, where most of the monuments are located. It is a well-defined area divided into four quarters by two roads, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, and Via Maqueda which crosses the Corso at right angles at the centre. It is a compact area measuring about 1.8 kilometres along the Corso by 1.3 kilometres along Via Maqueda. In terms of orientation, the Corso runs north-east towards the sea.
Palermo’s monuments are striking and unusual, from the Byzantine mosaic of Christ Pantocrator in the Palatine chapel located in the Norman palace, to the sculptures by Giacomo Serpotta in the oratories, the decorative piazzas Pretoria and Quattro Canti, the Arab-Norman style cathedral and the Norman complex of buildings at Monreale. There is a strong North African feel to the busy street markets, the Islamic-style churches with their red domes and the squares filled with palm trees.