Palermo (Sicily)

Travelling the network

Palermo (Sicily)


Palermo is the capital of Sicily in Italy. With a population of around 700,000 inhabitants, it is the most populated region on the island. It is located on the north coast of the island and occupies an area of 158 km².

Palermo is believed to date to 8000 BC and was inhabited by the Sicans. After them came the Phoenicians, Greeks (who never settled in the city), Carthaginians, and lastly, the Romans, who stayed a little longer. Its location, fertile valleys and the fact it is an island made it an important target for German invaders throughout the fifth century. The Saracens later arrived and razed the island to the ground in 831, renamed the towns and cities and built elegant mosques.

Reconquered by the Normans in 1072 and later by the Suevi of Frederick II, Palermo became part of the Kingdom of Sicily and Naples, to which it belonged over several periods of history. Given the numerous settler groups that successively occupied the city over the course of its history, Palermo is deemed “the most conquered city in the world”.

Palermo continued growing in prosperity and beauty. Baroque eventually dominated its urban development, deeply influencing its appearance even today. Palermo tried to go unharmed during the twentieth-century conflicts that swept over the rest of Europe and Italy. However, in 1943, it was invaded and bombed by allied forces, leaving scars that are still visible in some parts of the city.


Palermo’s historic city is one of the most interesting places to visit in the south of Italy. Palermo’s twelfth-century cathedral houses royal tombs, while the staggering Neo-classical Massimo Theatre is renowned for its opera performances.

The city centre is also home to the Palazzo dei Normanni (the Norman Palace), a royal palace that was first built in the tenth century BC, and the Palatine Chapel, decorated with Byzantine mosaics.

A trip to one of the city’s crowded markets, such as El Capo, Ballarò and Vucciria is a must.

Given its historic and artistic value and rich heritage, UNESCO listed Palermo as a World Heritage site in 2015. This recognition is limited to the city’s Arab-Norman heritage and includes two palaces, three churches, a cathedral and a bridge within the city bounds and the cathedrals in Cefalú and Monreale.


Holy Week is a popular religious event on the island of Sicily. These rituals (also known as “Bare” in Sicilian) originated during Sicily’s Spanish rule (1516-1713) when the entire island was under the control of the Crown of Aragon, linked to the Kingdom of Naples.

Palermo’s Holy Week is strongly influenced by its Castilian past, as can be observed in the costumes, sculptures, floats and accessories that feature, but also the way it is fervently celebrated by locals.

A total of 38 processions –both large and small in size– take to Palermo’s streets during Holy Week.

All of the processions include representations of the Crucifixion and Our Lady of Dolours and are accompanied by the Praetorian Guard (incorrectly nicknamed “The Jews”). Drummers, hooded penitents and biblical characters also feature throughout the processions.