Palermo by day and by night

Palermo is like an elegant grande dame who has lost most of her family fortune, but still dresses the part and knows how to give a superb party. If she had a sister living in the States, it would be New Orleans. The historic downtown area near the old port is a riot of color and activity, a labyrinth of markets, residences, shops and eateries.

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Intersecting these from time to time are straight, wide avenues and elegant squares.
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The city was dominated in turn by Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Saracen Arabs, Normans, and, finally, French and Spanish Bourbons. Its architecture, food and culture still bear traces of each, and the city is still an eclectic mix of ethnicities.

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There was a full moon the night I was there, and after dinner, I walked straight over to see the Cathedral of Palermo, where one of my heroes of history, Federico II is buried. He was the Holy Roman Emperor in the early 1200s, born to a Teutonic father and a Norman mother in Palermo. He grew up with an Arab entourage, spoke five languages, brought Arab numbers to Europe with the help of Fibonacci from Pisa, founded the University of Naples (the world’s oldest state-supported university),and challenged the Pope by canceling a crusade and going on a peace mission to Jerusalem. The Pope excommunicated him not once, but three times, and eventually went to war with him.

IMG_5570 The Cathedral is a magnificent blend of architectural styles.

A fellow journalist, Manuela Laiacona, who is from Palermo and was leading my midnight (literally) tour, also took me down to the port at the Foro Italico to see Ilardo, the oldest gelateria in Palermo dating from 1860. The Arabs had the idea of bringing snow down from the mountains, storing it in cool cellars and serving it up as granita or sorbetto (creamy granita that translates to sherbet in English and derives from the Arab word “sciarbat”).

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In the Belle Epoque (nineteenth century), it became fashionable to stroll the Foro Italico, stop at Ilardo, and listen to the orchestra playing in the open air.
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For more extensive information on walking the city, check out this website

I stayed right in the city in the B and B San Agostino which is right on one of the market streets in the center. Very authentic, neighborhood stay. I should add that I have driven all over Italy, but have never encountered the likes of Palermo in terms of both difficulty in navigating and in terms of traffic. Park as soon as possible.

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