The Mediterranean jewel

Written on May 15, 2013 by Fernando Dameto Zaforteza in Arts & Cultures & Societies

Mount-Etna-SicilyBy Fernando Dameto Zaforteza, Deputy Director of Humanities at IE Humanities Center.

If there is a place on earth worth visiting, that is Sicily. Monuments, such as the Cathedral of Monreale, Villa Romana Casale or Agrigento’s Concordia’s Temple are unique, probably the best preserved  pieces of their respective civilization. For me the most impressive of the three was Monreale’s Cathedral. Perhaps because when I walked in I felt I had never been to a place like that. Some may say is similar to Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, San Vitale in Ravenna or Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, but I stick to my word, I have never seen a place like that in my life. That said, if there is a place unmissable in this beautiful Mediterranean island, it is its capital.

Palermo is a monumental and decadent city, with an outstanding artistic heritage, palaces and churches are all over the place. The former ones make you feel in the times of il gattopardo. The latter are the legacy of fifteen centuries of diverse history. In Palermo you can appreciate a wide scope of churches, such as former arab mosques, norman with byzantine interior design, baroque or even the unseen, a church combining the baroque and the Norman-byzantine style. The amount of churches is unbelievable. I can’t think of a city centre with more churches…don’t be like my trip mates: Rome doesn’t count.

If you have the chance to visit Palermo, better during Easter, that way all the churches are open. Out of this period they are not easy to be visited. If you want to get a sense of Italian timing,  watch Wilder’s film Avanti. You will also be able to see the processions along the streets, and how they mix with the car traffic: strange experience to get your car stopped by a policeman and see a virgin carried by people crossing a few meters across. Also, you will be able to appreciate vigil parades walking into the churches, praying or singing.palermo

Surprisingly, even though its cultural heritage is incredible, its preservation is fairly poor. It is hard to believe that such  monumental centre is left behind, and you start thinking of cities with much less historical relevance that are top tourist destinations. That said, this fact enables people to live the experience of being in one of those post-apocalyptic films that were so popular in the eighties. When you find yourself after midnight in the middle of a centrally located square, surrounded by empty braced buildings, partially covered by the smoke of people frying sardines, and with motorbikes naturally crossing the square, while people dance enthusiastically 50’s music, you have the feeling of being part of the cast of one of John Carpenter’s films.


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