Exploring Palermo, A World Heritage Site


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This post is by Chris Bienemann

The city of Palermo is the capital of Sicily and a vibrant and bustling place to visit. It’s a city that has been caught between east and west for centuries and is acknowledged as the most conquered city in history. It has the second-largest historical centre in Europe and contains a heady mix of architecture. The east meets west influences have seen the area of Arab-Norman Palermo recognised as one of Sicily’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage In Palermo

Stretching along the northern coast of Sicily, Arab-Norman Palermo contains nine civil and religious structures that date from the Norman kingdom of Sicily (1130-1194). The sites with UNESCO status include two palaces, three churches, a cathedral, and a bridge in the city of Palermo. The cathedrals of Cefalù and Monreale are also included in the World Heritage listing.

When taken together they are recognised as a fine example of a social-cultural merging between Western, Islamic and Byzantine cultures.

Ornate interior of cathedral with columns and statues
The interior of Palermo Cathedral (Image by Talpa from Pixabay

Exploring The World Heritage Sites In Palermo

The majority of the listed sites are within the city of Palermo, but to see them all you will also need to venture out to Monreale (in the hills just outside the city) and Cefalù (a beautiful little town well worth visiting).

Palazzo Reale O Dei Normanni (Norman Palace)

This palace was originally built in the 10th century by the Arab Emirs but was upgraded by the Norman kings to be more luxurious. It’s also called the Royal Palace of Palermo and was the seat of the Kings of Sicily.

Cappella Palatina

The Palatine Chapel is the royal chapel of the Norman Palace. It’s a building that is a mixture of Byzantine, Norman and Fatimid architectural styles. It has spectacular elements in gold and bronze colours.

Cattedrale Di Palermo

The Cathedral of Palermo is one of the most important architectural monuments in Sicily. The Normans built it on the site of a mosque and aimed to surpass the beauty of the Cathedral of Monreale.

Chiesa Di San Giovanni Degli Eremiti

Found in the old town centre, St John of the Hermits is an ancient former monastic church. The interior is almost entirely devoid of decoration or furnishings, but the church is famous for its red domes, and medieval cloister ruins.

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Chiesa Di Santa Maria Dell’Ammiraglio O Della Martorana

Byzantine and Baroque influences are predominant in this church, and it has some stunning painted ceilings.

Chiesa Di San Cataldo

This temple in Piazza Bellini has Islamic influences and red domes.

Castello Della Zisa

Famed for its near-perfect symmetry, the Zisa is considered to be either a castle or a palace. Construction was originally begun by Moorish craftsmen around 1165.

Rectangular front of castle with mountains behind, trees on either side, and a large pool in front
The Castello della Zisa (Image by mennellaluigi from Pixabay)

Ponte Dell’Ammiraglio

Nowadays this is a slightly bizarre sight as the bridge crosses a grassy area! But when it was built between 1130 and 1140, it traversed the Oreto river.

Duomo Di Monreale

The Monreale Cathedral was built from 1174 by King William II of Sicily. It has all the characteristics of a Norman church, with two towers at the sides of the facade, a colonnade with a bronze portal, and interior walls with beautiful mosaics.

Cattedrale Di Cefalù

Founded in 1131 by King Roger II of Sicily, building work on this cathedral went slowly and it was never actually finished. Despite this it remains one of the finest examples of 12th century Sicilian architecture.

Cefalù (Image by Cristina from Pixabay)

Eating And Drinking In Palermo

Palermo has a vibrant restaurant and street food scene. The one dish you must try is sfincione. This is an icon of Palermo street food culture and can be found in every bakery, pizzeria and on many street food stalls. Sfincione is typical focaccia topped with tomato sauce, anchovies and caciocavallo cheese, some of the main ingredients of Sicilian cuisine.

Where To Stay In Palermo

I recommend somewhere central in Palermo like the stylish Hotel Politeama. From here you can easily walk to the Palermo world heritage sites.

You might also like to consider staying in Cefalù. It’s a much smaller and more relaxed place to stay right by the beach so some people will prefer to stay here rather than in hectic Palermo. Cefalù is just over an hour away from Palermo and there is a train line connecting them.

Chris is a keen traveller who aims to explore as much of the world as he can with his young family. He shares travel tips and inspiration at morelifeinyourdays.com.

About Bewitched by italy

Bewitched By Italy is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), but Italy remains one of my favourite destinations. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…


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