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Palermo and Surroundings

Villas in Sicily near Palermo

PalermoFor centuries in the past, Palermo maintained the typical aspect of a medieval town, with little streets, alleys, and a circle of walls, but between the end of XVI and the beginning of XVII century it became a great baroque capital, after the erection of the so called Quattro Canti, a monumental crossroad between Cassaro - the city main road dating back to the Phonicians' foundation - and the newly opened Via Maqueda (from the name of a famous Spanish Viceroy). This spectacular structure, composed of four levels and characterized by statues portraying the four seasons, four Spanish kings, and four patron Saints of Palermo, was named Teatro del Sole, because the sunlight falls on each of them all day long at different times. It was meant to celebrate the beauty and richness of the modern city, with its noble mansions lined on both sides of th e crossing roads and the austere Piazza Pretoria, whose severe looking had been recently lighted by the purchasing of Fontana Pretoria. The building of Via Maqueda and Quattro Canti (whose real name is Piazza Vigliena) started off an imposing urban development, with the erection of innumerable aristocratic mansions like Palazzo Butera, Palazzo Comitini and Palazzo Gangi, and of Porta Felice and Porta Nuova, two monumental city gates, rich in columns, state sand niches, which lent Cassaro new magnificence.

Travellers in the XVIII century were breath-taken in front of such a jubilation of decorations and ephemeral architecture that, during public celebrations, were - and are - still ornated in a triumph of colours and elegance, especially during the Festino of Saint Rosalia, Palermo's patron saint. The whole area of Cassaro, with its noble palaces and the two city gates, keeps its charm even today, in spite of the massive bombings effected by Americans in 1943, which destroyed most of the historical centre.

Strolling around you can still gape at a baroque façade or a nice intact courtyard. Even the baronial villas, once holiday places for their noble owners, strike us with the grandness of their facades, often ornated with monumental stairs: elegant and refined is the façade of Villa Trabia, immersed in its park.

Clerical power is massively represented as well by a multitude of religious buildings: S. Domenico's Church, with the sober elegance of its symmetrical front and the baroque richness of its interior, S. Caterina's Church, with its wide front stairs and the profusion of mixed marbles inside, overlooking the Arab-Norman façade of the Martorana Church, Samd the imposing mass of S. Giuseppe dei Teatini with the rich vault of the central nave, decorated with stuccos and frescos, and its interesting tower bell, SS. Salvatore Oratory (with its elliptic plan), S. Teresa alla Kalsa, with the sumptuousness of its facade, where elastic membranes converge towards a medallion where the Sacred Family is represented, and the Immacolata Concezione Church inside the Capo street market, a little jewel with its marvellous decorations of carved mixed marbles.

Extraordinary, unforgettable are Palermo's baroque oratories, mosto of them decorated with stuccos by Giacomo Serpotta, whose works have become the symbol of the city's baroque style: S. Lorenzo, (with stuccos narrating scenes of the saint's life); S.Cita (with its famous portrait of Lepanto's Battle between the Turkish and the Spanish Navy, framed by a jubilation of small angels); l'Immacolatella, S. Domenico, (with its elegant stautes of Virtues surrounding a rich circle of precious paintings), S. Caterina d'Alessandria, (with its allegories of Sciences), S. Filippo Neri.

A few kilometres from Palermo you'll find Bagheria, one of the places favored by aristocratic families in the XVIII century to spend a holiday in the country, where they built a few refined mansions such as Villa Palagonia, famous for its tuff monsters surmounting the walls, and Villa Cattolica (today an art gallery mostly dedicated to the worldwide known Sicilian painter Renato Guttuso), which is a splendid example of baroque architecture, with its massive grace.

Villas in Sicily near Palermo

Palermo old town centre skyline

Quattro Canti in Palermo

The stunning Porta Felice in Palermo

Festino of Saint Rosalia

Villa Trabia

San Domenico Church

Villa Palagonia in Bagheria

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