Palermo, seen from above, offers a vantage point from which to best admire its many aesthetic possibilities and makes for a breathtaking show. Besides seeing it from an airplane while landing at the airport between the Tyrrhenian Sea and Longa Mountain, there are many high up observation points to see the city from. They offer wide and suggestive views, sometimes after only a little climb. Others require scrambling up the hills surrounding the area known as the “Conca d’Oro” or “Golden Valley.”
Located on the most beautiful promontory in the world – according to Goethe – Utveggio Castle sits in all its majesty, facing the gulf in front of the city. The Castle is a Liberty Style structure, built between the 1920s and 1930s at the wish of a gentleman, Michele Utveggio, who wanted to make it into a luxury hotel that would offer its guests a privileged view of the city. His hopes were not disappointed. The panoramic terrace in gardens of the Castle is now an exclusive point from which to admire the city in all its eminence and beauty.
Still on Monte Pellegrino, going up even higher, bend after bend, you finally get to Belvedere. Here you find the noteworthy statue of the patron saint of Palermo, Saint Rosalia. She stands on a little elevation, from which you can catch a glimpse of the entire coast. After all, she needs a wide view to protect the city and its inhabitants. It’s one of my favourite places, a quiet and relaxing one. There, the sky and the sea blend together, just like the horizon in the distance.
Five kilometres away in the distance, on a promontory south of Palermo, the municipality of Monreale rises up. Today, it’s the seat of the archbishop as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the main piazza, the marvelous “Duomo” or cathedral stands out. Built in the second half of the 1100s for William the Second, it’s undoubtedly worth having a look at. Entering through the bronze doors of the main entrance, you are dazzled by the golden mosaics and blessed by the Christ Pantocrator figure depicted in the central apse. A visit to the cathedral also includes a walk to the upper levels, from which you can enjoy a panoramic view of the entire city.If you want a preview, you can have a look at the online webcam from there which transmits live images.
The roofs of Cassaro
Whoever comes to Palermo has to be charmed by its marketplaces. One of the most important is surely Ballarò, located in the district of the “Palazzo Reale” (Royal Palace) or Albergaria (Albergheria). While walking amid the street stalls, listening to the “abbaniata” or the cries of their sellers, or sampling one of the local delicacies, you can’t help but notice the 13th century tower alongside the church of San Nicolò of Bari, also known as San Nicolò of the Albergheria. The tower was built by the municipality of Palermo during that time to defend the wall of Cassaro, a strategic point facing the sea. The sea is much further away today, but you only have to just go up to the top of the tower and you will not be disappointed. It’s worth trying out one of the evening visits frequently organized by the Terradamare touristic cooperative.
While still in the Albergheria neighborhood, another 360° panoramic viewpoint from which to admire the city is from the Church of the “Santissimo Salvatore (SS)” or the Church of the Holy Saviour along Vittorio Emanuele Street. The gem of this church is certainly its dome, whose terrace opened to the public in 2014 (now open every day, except Tuesday, from 10:00 to 18:00).As the oldest street in Rome, the Cassaro brings together the most important buildings in the city. One that stands out, for its beauty and history, is the cathedral of Palermo. In July 2015, this became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and part of the Arab-Norman tour of Palermo, Cefalù, and Monreale. A few years ago, it reopened its roof area to public. The first time I went up in the evening, I was enchanted not only by the view, but also by the tiled roofs and their juxtaposition of diverse styles built up over the centuries. Placing a hand on the sturdy walls of the church, you can almost feel its 1000-year history.
Moving in the direction of Rome, in Piazza San Domenico near Vucciria (another historic marketplace), you find La Rinascente department store. The building that welcomes you today was purposefully restored during a project by the well-known architect and designer, Flavio Albanese. He turned a crumbling period structure into an innovative and elegant department store. After a little shopping, you can eat or drink something in the food hall, with its splendid panoramic terrace that unites both a viewing and dining experience. The piazza and church you see are among the most photographed in the city, with good reason.
“Teatro Massimo,” or the Massimo opera house in Piazza Verdi, is the third largest in Europe after the National Opera of Paris and the State Opera of Vienna. Closed for a long period during its recent history, it is now appreciated for its architectural value and programme of performances. You can add a visit to the opera house roof to the guided tour of the inside, but only upon reservation.