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Ananya Panday’s guide to Palermo, Italy

Where to go and what to see

By Ananya Panday  April 15th, 2019

Italy is a country rich in art, history and culture, and for my first-ever cover shoot with ELLE India in association with American Express, I got to immerse myself fuss-free in one of Italy’s hidden gems, Palermo. Located in the south of Italy, this city is over 2,700 years old and other than being the capital of Sicily, it has also been deemed as the cultural capital of the country. From architectural monuments to botanic gardens, here’s my quick guide to visiting Palermo.

1. Cattedrale di Palermo

The Palermo Cathedral was built in 1185 by the city’s archbishop, Walter of the Mill. A man of great stature, Walter felt his powers diminishing when the Monreale Cathedral was built, and therefore constructed an equally magnificent one in Palermo. The church was actually built on the location of a ninth century mosque, which was built on top of a chapel before that. It’s amazing how elements from the mosque’s original decor is still visible, and you can see a column inscribed with a passage from the Koran. Due to its long-standing history of additions, alterations and restorations, architecturally speaking, the cathedral has influences from various styles across different eras.

Fun fact: In the Cathedral’s treasury you will find a collection of Norman-era jewels, as well as antique religious relics. The 13th-century crown of Constance of Aragon that’s crafted in fine gold filigree, embellished with gems can also be seen there. 

2. Piazza Pretoria

Majestically sitting in the centre Palermo lies Piazza Pretoria, a square surrounded by architectural grandeur—and in the centre of that lies the square’s main landmark, the Fontana Pretoria. Deemed by the residents of Palermo as the square or fountain of “shame”, the notorious name came along due to the structure’s display of nude statues that surrounded the fountain’s basin. A great place to spend a lazy afternoon at, you can simply admire the scenic view or bask in the Italian sun with a book.

Fun fact: The fountain was actually situated in Florence for a few years, before being moved to Palermo in 1574. For easy transportation, the structure was divided into 644 pieces and was then put back together when brought to the island. 

3. Palazzo Lanza Tomasi

Want to experience Palermo the luxurious Italian way? Head to Palazzo Lanza Tomasi. A historic house located in the centre of Palermo, Palazzo Lanza Tomasi was built at the end of seventeenth century and was the last home of Prince Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, a celebrated author who lived his last years at the house. His adopted son then restored the building and unified the surrounding property, making a serene space where people can enjoy the view that faces Palermo’s sea front. The interiors of the house are characterised by Palermo’s aristocracy and is furnished by decor pieces from the great Sicilian artisans.

Fun fact: You can stay on the third floor of the Palazzo Lanza Tomasi, at Butera 28 apartments which has been converted into residences for tourists to immerse in the true Sicilian life.

4. Orto Botanico di Palermo

Green thumb or not, a must-visit attraction has got to be Palermo’s Botanical Garden. A refreshing, as well an educational experience, the botanical garden lies 33 feet above sea-level and covers a massive 30 acres of land. Surrounded by exotic greenery, overflowing fountains, and historic architectural structures, the entire area feels like fairytale-esque the moment you step in. The perfect Insta background, one would say.

Fun fact: The garden dates back to 1779, and a small part of it was dedicated to grow plants with medicinal benefits. 

5. Mondello Beach

No trip is complete without a relaxing day at the beach! Blue skies, clear water, and sand between your toes, head to Mondello Beach for some much needed serenity. Situated in between two cliffs, its surrounded by Art Nouveau villas that essentially define the architecture of it.

Fun fact: The small town of Mondello was actually an unhealthy marshy swamp, which was then drained out.