Palermo – A diamond in the rough
First-time visitors to Palermo are often struck by the sense of discord. The crumbling buildings. The reputation for street crime. The unnerving traffic situation, with honking car horns, reckless scooter drivers and horse carriages pounding the narrow streets at full tilt. The only rule seems to be that there are no rules. And the townsfolk seem to like it this way.
"We are used to the traffic in Palermo," says local resident Alessandro. "It's not a problem for us. We Palermitanos love our city – it's like a mother. It's a very strange kind of love."
But scratch the surface and you'll discover a different Palermo. A cultural melting pot with a rich history, fantastic food and beautiful beaches nearby.
One of the best ways to discover Palermo is by exploring its mysterious maze of narrow streets on foot. There is an abundance of gorgeous churches, piazzas, grandiose theaters and crumbling palaces. Several palaces are open to visitors, giving you a glimpse of the wealth and splendor once enjoyed by the Palermitano aristocracy.
The magnificently disheveled buildings are an eclectic mix of architectural styles from different occupying civilizations – Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab and Norman.
The colorful open air street markets Capo, Vucciria and Balleró display the diversity of Palermo's heritage: African, Arab, Italian, Sicilian. Here you can find oriental spices, flowers, fresh fish, meat and exotic vegetables.
"In Palermo, the food is baroque, rich, particular, and of course very important," says food connoisseur and personal chef Gaetano Chirico. "Offering good food is the first proof of love."
When your legs get tired you can always catch a ride with an Ape – one of the three-wheeler scooter taxis that crisscross the city's maze of hidden alleys. Or skip the hustle and jump on a the bus to nearby beach resort Mondello – a favorite place to cool off in summer.
Alessia is a Palermitana who's doing just that together with her friends. "Sicily is the sunshine," Alessia says. "We might be a little crazy here, but we become happy and relaxed when the sun shines."
Text: Fredrik Ölmqvist
Published: February 9, 2016