For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Friday, 11 June 2010

Palermo

It may not have the beguiling charm of Florence, or the elegance of Bologna, or the sophistication of Milan, or the dazzling, decadent grandeur of Venice, or the monumental magnificence of Rome, but the Italian city of Palermo is unfailingly interesting. It's an essential port of call on any trip to Sicily. We spent a couple of days and nights there. I didn't fall in love with it, but I liked it a lot.

Palermo was once Europe's greatest and wealthiest city - both an important trade-centre and a seat of learning. The Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs and Normans all settled here. Around 100 years ago decline set in. During WWII the harbour was heavily bombed. 70 churches were destroyed. Thankfully many churches were also left standing - such as the over-the-top Baroque confection of Santa Caterina, which straddles Piazza Pretoria and Piazza Bellini...


If you look behind the grid of 17th and 18th century, straight-as-a-die main thoroughfares, you can trace a sinuous network of narrow medieval streets, tiny squares with fountains, curving alleyways squeezed by tall, decaying, balconied and shuttered apartments. For me what makes Palermo so appealing are ordinary, back-street corners such as these in the city's ancient heart...


The best approach to Palermo is definitely from the sea - that way you can really appreciate how the huge limestone bulk of Monte Pellegrino dominates the place. But we arrived by coach from Trápani airport, emerging from the bus in hot sunshine, blinking and without bearings. After asking directions we pulled our cases in a daze to Hotel Joli, unaccustomed to the heat and the avalanche of anarchic traffic...

3 comments:

Fireweed Meadow said...

Compared to what I'm used to (Wal-Mart and McDonalds on the side of the highway, apocolyptic plumes of god-knows-what arising from the local pulp mills) this place looks more than just a little beguiling, elegant and sophisticated. It looks beautiful and alive.

pilgrimpace said...

Good to have you back Robert. I'm looking forward to Assisi, if you made it there, but very happy for a slow journey.

Andy

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, it was beautiful, and very alive, Fireweed. I was just being picky. We are spoilt rotten in Europe for stunning, historic cities.

Thanks, Andy. It's nice to be back. Intended to finish up in Assisi, but time ran out after Sicily, Naples and Amalfi. Next time, I hope...