Wandering through the streets of Palermo is taking part in a giant parade of witnesses to several different civilizations intimately fused together. Individual centuries and periods in history can be seen in the existing buildings and areas; admiring these masterpieces is similar to losing yourself in something timeless and unchanging, the current inhabitants disappear, and are replaced by perpetual memories, traditions and legends.
The original center of the Sicilian capital was founded over the course of 2 centuries (from VIII-VI BC) the Phoenicians gave the city the name of Ziz (flower) and it was surrounded by a city wall. The subsequent Greek settlement allowed the city to develop towards the sea, defined by the Papireto and Kemonia rivers and included the port. It was in this period that the city was given its name: Panorma, ('Port of excellence' or 'all port'). The built up area spread gradually (mostly due to the work of the Arabs and Normans), through an irregular series of streets and alleys. Later, the Aragonese opened two long, straight main roads, created by demolishing many of the old buildings: the first road developed perpendicular to the coast and included Corso Vittorio Emanuele (the old Cassaro from the Arabic Qasr, the royal palace) and Corso Caltafimi: the other road ran perpencicular to the former Corso Vittorio Emanuele and stretches through existing Via Oreto, Via Maqueda, Via Ruggero Settimo and Via Libertà. The two main roads cut the city into four parts: Tribunali (north-west), Palazzo Reale (south-west), Monte di Pieta (south-east), and Castellamare (north-east) and they intersect one another in Piazza Vigliena, the well known Quattro Canti di Città (four poems of the city), an octagonal complex decorated by statues and fountains, known as the 'teatro del sole' (theatre of sun), because from here you can make out the sun as it sets. In the Bourbon period the wall was extended in a southwesterly direction, up to Monreale. This zone is known as the historical center of the city 'there are many buildings from various eras are situated here. They are proofs of the artistic history of Palermo, which stretches back thousands of years. The monuments left by the Normans are of particular interest, as they made use of the traditional Arabic shapes, such as in the Cuba, the piccola Cuba and the Zisa (from the Arabic al-Aziza, the glorious one) but above all in the splendid Palatine Chapel of King Ruggero II Royal Palace, famous for its incomparable mosaics. Amongst the religious buildings, some of the most notable include the churches S. Giovanni dei Lebbrosi (founded by King Ruggero I in 1072), S. Giovanni degli Eremiti, with its beautiful second century cloister, Martorana, S. Cataldo, S. Francesco d'Assisi and Vespro, while amongst the civil buildings, the Palazzo dei Normanni, once the seat of the Emiri, the Norman kings and the Spanish viceroys and from 1947 headquarters of the Sicilian Regional Assembly, the Palazzo Chiaramonte (or 'Steri'), the Palazzo Sclafani and the Palazzo Abatellis. The majestic Cathedral stands upon the ancient Cassaro. It started as an Arab mosque on the ruins of an early Christian basilica; at the end of the 1700s it underwent a wave of late Baroque changes, which irreparably altered several of the winter and summer views of the city. At the sides of the piazza are various palazzi that stand together harmoniously; one of the most well-known buildings is the Archbishops palace.
During the Spanish domination, suburbs flourished outside the city walls both to the north, towards the sea (Mondello, Partanna, Sferracavallo, Barcarello) and towards the south, on the road leading to Bagheria and Termini Imerese (Oreto, Romagnolo, Settecannoli). After Sicily was annexed to Italy and up until the beginning of the
First World War, Palermo had a notable increase in building work; this work adhered to precise directives for new quarters with a regular 'chessboard' layout to the south-east extremity of
In the last century new quarters have been developed, the majority are on the west side of Viale della Regione Siciliana (the real ringroad of the city, a link between the motorways for Trapani and Messina), which make up the newer, but still highly populated areas of the city eg. Uditore, Altarello and Cruillas.
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