Carol Forster column


Have you ever visited Sicily? What a fascinating place, sitting there in the Mediterranean like a prize jewel.

Its beauty and location have attracted an astonishing number of invaders such as Greeks, Normans, Saracen Arabs and Spanish Bourbons, resulting in a meld of different cultural influences and architecture.

Couple this with Sicily’s perfect climate, and you have a place which, in an ideal world, could be perceived as almost perfect.

The big, bold city of Palermo divides into four main areas - an adventure for the brave and the curious alike, with churches, palaces and markets to explore and peruse at every turn.

The colourful , attractive ‘Ballaro’ and ‘Il capo’ markets have an Arabic flavour, there in the narrow shaded streets of the city.

With too many churches to mention, all worth visiting, you could start with the 12th century Duomo and its impressive Catalan-Gothic exterior, or ‘La Martorana’ with its frescoes, beside the three -domed church of ‘San Cataldo’. Alternatively there’s the baroque ‘San Giuseppe dei Teatini’ or ‘La Capella Palatina’ with its Byzantine mosaics and Arabic ceiling.

Palermo’s palaces are magnificent, such as ‘Palazzo dei Normanni’, with its Arabic and Norman architecture. Interestingly, ‘Palazzo Steri’ became the official residence of the Spanish Viceroy and later the dubious place for one leg of the Spanish inquisition, whilst ‘Palazzo Abatellis’, built in Catalan-Gothic style in 1488, now contains an art gallery which includes important works of art.

The ‘Teatro Massimo’, first opened in 1897, was once host to an array of famous opera stars before closing in 1974 due to safety regulations. In 1997 it was finally reopened again to the public.

Palermo also abounds with shops, gardens, restaurants and cafes selling speciality Sicilian foods such as Arancini (fried rice balls); Sfincione(a doughy pizza); tubed Cannoli and ‘Cassata Siciliana’, a sponge cake filled with ricotta and other yummies.

The Palermitani themselves are lively and resilient, yet reserved with strangers and, moreover, enjoy one of the most beautiful islands in the world, with a fascinating history to boot – a potential paradise.