This historic square is located near the intersection of Via Maqueda and Corso Vittorio Emanuele. The piazza is surrounded by an imposing set of buildings, among which stand out the Palazzo Praetorian, site of Palermo’s town hall, and the Church of Santa Caterina. In its center, the beautiful Fontana Pretroria gets all the attention from tourists and residents alike. The fountain was designed by the Florentine sculptor Francesco Camilliani, in 1555, for the Tuscan villa of the Spanish viceroy of Naples Pedro Álvarez de Toledo y Zúñiga. Later, his son sold it, and it was moved to Palermo, in 1573. The nude mythological figures featured in the sculptures have given it the colloquial name Piazza della Vergogna (Square of Shame). It is said that the local nuns were so shocked and indignant when they saw them for the first time, they broke the nose of each of the characters.
Stately old palaces, particularly the church of San Domenico and the Archaeological Museum, mark one of the main streets of historic Palermo, Via Roma. Nearby is the fashionable Via Libertá, where Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana and Cartier have their exclusive boutiques.
Church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti
Built around 1140 and completely restored in 1882, San Giovanni is a refuge for the soul. It represents a bridge between the cultures that have historically inhabited Palermo. With a strong Muslim influence, countless exotic plants and palms, the church exudes an air of classic orientalism.
Gastronomy and accommodation
Sicily’s cuisine is a melting pot of cultures with a fusion of flavors in which anything is possible. Some iconic dishes represent the pure essence of Arab confectioners, who produced selected sweets like the cubbaita— a very sweet nougat made with honey, sesame seeds and almonds, and the nucatuli, derived from the Arabic word nagal (dried fruit, jam). Lovers of essences, the Arabs made sweets flavored with fruit, cinnamon and even flowers: they created a jasmine ice cream called scursunera, which is still produced, in Palermo, today. They also left a sort of still or alembic for the distillation of grappa, and in accordance with the Quran, they only used the product to disinfect wounds. The Sicilians transformed it in a spirit called Rosolio.
The Arabs were defeated by the Norman legions of Ruggero II of Altavilla in the battle of Cerami, in 1063. The Scandinavian warriors and seafarers who left magnificent cathedrals in Palermo, also brought their prized herring and dried cod.
The Spaniards left a baroque influence in the regional gastronomy. They redeveloped earlier dishes with the introduction of a basic ingredient: Spanish bread. And still today, the Hispanic heritage can be found in dishes like sweet and sour pumpkin or the scacciata, a delicious, crispy pie.
Sicilian cuisine was also influenced by the French, who introduced these lands to the puff pastry roll, which the peasants filled with fried vegetables while the nobles used game meat instead.
Palermo’s best five-star hotel is the historic Grand Hotel Et des Palmes. In this illustrious establishment, Richard Wagner completed his opera Parsifal, in 1881. The French writer Raymond Roussel lived here until his death, and General Charles Poletti made it his headquarters during WWII. It is considered one of the most remarkable hotels, not only of Palermo, but also of the entire island of Sicily. ■
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