The port city of Palermo is beautifully situated on a wide bay under the bulk of Monte Pellegrino, on the north coast of Sicily. Founded in 734 BC, it has enjoyed a position as one of the greatest cities of Europe, first under the Carthaginians and the Romans, and then under Arab and Norman domination in the Middle Ages. The legacy of its past is evident today in its treasure-trove of Byzantine, Baroque and Norman historic buildings, and relics in its many museums.
Palermo, Sicily © Bengt Nyman
After years of post-war neglect and mafia corruption, Palermo is becoming an increasingly popular stop for tourists and many fall in love with the city's chaotic streets and faded glory. The rescue of Sicily's capital has been aided by European Union funds and the wane in Mafia influence. Its crumbling roads are being repaved and the historic landmarks are being restored.
The most famous sights include the Royal Palace, the seat of the Norman kings of Sicily, and the Cathedral of Monreale, which is one of the greatest surviving examples of Norman architecture in the world.
Today the pulse of the city beats fast and furious in its vibrant street markets, cobbled squares and narrow alleyways. Old, historic quarters like Kalsa are being restored and restaurants, galleries and cafes are opening to cater for the growing tourist trade. The historic wealth, and even the down-to-earth chaos of Palermo, make it an interesting Italian city and several days may be required to appreciate the sights before moving on to explore the rest of the island.