Continuing on our stroll about town…

Inside a Palermo Palazzo

After we’d visited the big destinations — the cathedral, the Norman Palace (upcoming posts!), and the food markets — and as the afternoon temperatures rose, we were on the lookout for less conspicuous attractions. One big portal among many along the Via Vittorio Emanuele included a small sign: Palazzo Drago. Owned by the same family for at least 400 years. Perhaps a bit of cool interiors.

Our tour guide, who really just oriented us and then let us loose, is a member of the family that owns the palazzo. She and her parents and siblings have worked in recent decades to restore the palazzo. We felt her pride in her family home. It was like we were both tourists and guests of the household. Imagine growing up in this place!

Our guide showed us a fragment of the palazzo’s foundations that date back to Phoenician times (some time between 8th and 3rd centuries BCE!). While various buildings have occupied this site since then, construction of the palazzo we visit today had been started sometime before 1714. The first clear documentation that a Drago owned the palace dates from this time. It was a certain Casimiro Drago who owned the building; he was the president of the Consistory (which is a gathering of Roman Catholic Cardinals). 

One of the high-ceilinged rooms includes displays of an eclectic array of little objects and of sculptures, books and paintings. We were the only visitors in the room at the time. As we were taking a look at the objects, a well-dressed man in his 70s came into the room. He started talking to us in Italian. We smiled and said, “English, ou Français?” We expected him to switch to English, but instead he said, “Ah! Français! J’ai étudié le français!” (I studied French!) And then wanted to chat in French. (It was a guilty pleasure to discover that his French wasn’t as good as David’s!) This Signore is the father of our guide, and the current patriarch of the palazzo’s family. He proudly pointed out various artifacts that his forebears had acquired. 

Two paintings from the Signore’s room: destinations for our travels in the coming days:

Amazing ceilings throughout:


Baroque and bare.

Transforming a baroque church with sound and light

There are churches everywhere in Palermo. We mean, everywhere! (Wikipedia lists 101 of them.) One baroque portal or facade after another. However, on one, the church of Santa Caterina d’Allessandria, a poster announced a light show each evening inside the church. “Spectacular immersive projections.” “A unique experience.”

Apologies for becoming jaded, but we’ve seen quite a few church interiors by now, so we aren’t likely to pop into a church just because it’s a church. But, enlivened with a light show, now that’s attractive. We returned in the evening and were delighted by the imaginative transformation of the 16th century church.


Teatro Massimo: Palermo’s 19th century opera house, of which Palermitani are very proud. It’s the third largest opera house in Europe, after the Palais Garnier in Paris, and the K. K. Hof-Opernhaus in Vienna.

The crossroads of Palermo

I Quattro Canti is the crossroads of ancient, Renaissance and Baroque Palermo — as well as today’s touristic Palermo. I Quattro Canti means the Four Corners. What we see today was constructed in 1609 to honor the Spanish Viceroy at the time. (The Kingdom of Spain ruled Palermo from 1479 to 1713.) Each convex facade celebrates a season of the year, a Spanish king, and a patron saint. 

This site goes back to the 7th century BCE, the time of the Phoenicians. A major road ran from the harbor into the valley, and it divided the original port from the necropolis.   2200 years later, in the 16th century CE, the road was called the Cassaro (from Arab times) or the Via Toledo (from Spanish times). The Spanish Viceroy had a major cross street constructed, called Via Maqueda in honor of his predecessor, Bernardo Cardenas, Duke of Maqueda. The crossing of Via Toledo and Via Maqueda became I Quattro Canti.

We were mystified by the fenced-off public sculpture sitting in the middle of the crossroads. Without judging the work itself — a snow-white bit of construction equipment? — why the utilitarian off-putting fence around it? Usually public art inspires, or at least comments or challenges. Perhaps this challenges so much that people wanted to tear it up and cover it with graffiti, so, for its own health, the authorities fenced it off? Kind of detracts from the exuberance of this fine public space.

Once back home, we did a little research. This is public art commissioned by the Falcone Foundation and created by the artist Arcangelo Sassolino.  The concept of this piece is “emphasis on degradation linked to the violence of the mafia, on the demolition of historic buildings to replace them with reinforced concrete, on wild speculation,” according to critic Vittorio Sgarbi.  

The general curator from the Falcone Foundation, Allessandro de Lisi, said about this installation (translation by Google, enthusiasm by the curator):

To counter the risk of civil amnesia, of finding ourselves so tragically again next to our executioners, Arcangelo Sassolino’s colossal work is deliberately a cosmic paradox: a monstrous, stupid and innocent excavator, a headless machine, capable, if you will, only to demolish, in a potentially endless, aggressive and unstoppable spastic constant. White beast, snowy like the allegorical purity of the sculptural sacred, like the baroque plaster of Serpotta, the incorruptible marble of Gagini, tired and restless like a mechanical Maria, a Rondanini of building who tries to remind us that the city of old beauty and one meter from her, from the end and from the ineluctable. (source)

So, there you have it! In the eye of the beholder.

One last thing

Just because!

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