The ferry tannoy for arrival at Palermo sounded at 4.30am to eject us from our cabins before arrival at 5am. However, awaiting with all the other passengers in the bar drinking expresso, it was nearer 6am before we were allowed to the car deck and off the ship. This was a moment of some dread as the traffic in Palermo is legendary. We figured though that 6am on a Sunday was probably the best possible option for arrival. We had found a secure camping space only 20 minutes walk to the main sights. We set the sat-nav, ignored it’s suggestion of going straight through the historic centre and head east on the ring road for as long as we could. We turned down a long straight road toward the motorhome parking, still in darkness. This was where it started to get more fun with scooters without lights, a man pushing what appeared to be a market stall across a major road junction stopping to have a rest in the middle. Then we nearly got caught up in some sort of car boot type sale going on at the side of the road, before being redirected, much to the relief of the stall holders.
We arrived at the gates of the secure parking to find them locked as it was still early. However, when we tried the intercom a bleary eyed attendant came to the gate to say they were full 😨. We diverted to option 2 of secure parking, a bit out of town with a bus option. We managed to get there within another 20 minutes of hair raising driving cars overtaking on both sides etc. Ironically, it would have been fairly direct route to this site from the ferry instead of the circumnavigation we had endured. At least this time, the closed gate was opened by a slightly tetchy guy who said everyone was sleeping, but nonetheless checked us in and found us a spot. Much to the relief of the driver, though perhaps not our sleeping motorhome neighbours 🤭. Phew! We were just relieved to pull in.
We had a bit of a rest whilst the sun came up, but we were soon keen to get started on our tour of Palermo, apparently the most conquered city in the world. Established by the Phoenicians in 734BC, it has been conquered by the Carthageans, Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Normans, each leaving their mark on the architecture and customs. First though, we could not ignore Monte Pellegrino which literally towers above the campsite. When we came into Palermo on the ferry we could see this 606 metre high hill on the east side of the bay, the only interruption to the lights on the shore, now we were parked at its base. Therefore, after a cup of tea we decided we had to climb up to the top to see the view and give the dogs a run. The elaborate brick viaduct providing a switch-back walking route to the top. We could see the view across the city of Palermo unfolding as we climbed.
At the top of Monte Pellegrino, a road crosses the path and Sunday morning cyclists swished past us, barely out of breath. We enjoyed the view in the early morning sunshine and took our well earned photos of the magnificent view. The route back down was much faster, though it’s obviously popular for a Sunday stroll, as we passed a lot more people going up and had to dodge the Sunday morning mountain bikers coming back down the cobbled path at speed.
We opted for a taxi into town as our time is limited, heading straight to Mercato di Ballaro, a traditional open air market with plenty of street food options for our DIY street food tour. Our first find was a cannoli pastry, a fried pastry dough in a tube shape with a ricotta filling, a local delicacy now found world wide. I opted for pistachio. Kev tried the stuffed sardines, but these were not a hit. However the arancini (fried rice balls) with cheese or beef were a definite win. Finally I had my first Italian strawberry gelato (ice cream).
The Ballaro market was very busy, mainly it seemed with locals out for Sunday morning. The biggest queue was Sapori Antichi, who serve a very traditional offal baguette, which we decided to decline 🤢 It was all a bit too busy with two little terriers, so we struck off for our walking sightseeing tour.
First stop was Palermo Cathedral, originally erected in 1185, it has had multiple additions and alterations since, producing a very mixed architectural style, which is inline with the history of Palermo itself.
Close by to the Cathedral, was the Norman Palace, built following the Norman invasion in 1072, it was the seat of the Kings of Sicily, now the seat of the Sicilian Regional assembly. Apparently one of the oldest inhabited palaces in the world. A rest in the San Giovanni gardens providing a welcome respite from the city en route.
The neighbouring Porto Nuovo is a monumental city gate, built to celebrate the conquest of Tunis, like a Roman triumphal arch. It features four Moors on the west face representing those defeated in Tunis. A nice walk out of the traffic down the long straight pedestrianised road from here to the baroque Quattro Canti, an octagonal plaza featuring four fountains, one on each corner of a cross roads. Buzzing with people, horse drawn tourist carriages and a local folk music busker adding a nice atmosphere to the sunny Sunday morning. The weather certainly seems a little warmer still, now we are a bit further south in Sicily.
Around the corner from Quattro Canti is the Pretoria fountain, apparently previously referred to as the square of Shame due to the nude depictions of Olympians. It was made in Florence and shipped in 600+ pieces to Palermo. It is very ornate and reminiscent of some of the grand fountains in Rome, it is surrounded by some of the many churches of Palermo, their domed architecture creating quite a setting.
The churches have some dazzling golden mosaic interiors, not hinted at by the austere exteriors, but unfortunately and not unreasonably, none of these sites are not dog friendly to visit inside.
Finally, we headed to Massimo Theatre, an imposing 1387 seater opera house. A suitably impressively grand building which I think must be quite the venue to enjoy an opera. Although I gather is perhaps more famous for the closing scene of Godfather Part III. I have not seen any of the Godfather films, though Kevin is threatening to rectify that whilst we are here. Apparently obligatory watching for Sicily, I think from their reputation I might prefer to see them once we have left! However, the open bustling atmosphere of Palermo we have seen today is clearly quite a different place these days.
I really enjoyed our walking tour today, especially as we had done some research into the history before we set off. We round the afternoon with an Apero Spritz in the sunshine looking at the Massimo as it seemed like everyone we passed was doing the same.