FROM QUATTRO CANTI TO VUCCIRIA
Also called “Teatro del Sole”, this square represents a real revolution in urban thinking. Before the fifteenth century the construction of a building subordinated the urban planning: now, with the creation of this space, for the first time, the streets and squares determine the spaces and orientations for the evolution of the city.
It was commissioned by the Spanish viceroy Marquis of Villena and designed by the Roman architect and engineer Giulio Lasso; it symbolizes the four seasons with four statues placed above as many marble basins. In the upper part four statues depict the Spanish kings and at the highest level the female saints to whose the Palermitan people is devoted.
Along via Maqueda, a few steps away, Piazza Pretoria represents another example of that new trend that animated 16th-century architecture. The fountain, centrally located in the square, was purchased by the Palermitan Senate from the Toledo family, in Florence, who in turn had commissioned Camilliani and Michelangelo Naccherino to create this splendid sculptural work in order to decorate their residence. The monumental nature of the square is represented by the presence of the imposing buildings and solemn churches that surround it. On the southern side of the square, with its quadrangular, squared mass, the Palazzo del Comune also known as Palazzo della Aquile acts as a backdrop. Entirely rebuilt in the second half of the 19th century by the architect Damiani Almeyda, both the façade and its interior have acquired a rigid symmetry. Worthy of particular note is the “Sala delle Lapidi”, already existing in the first fifteenth-century building, today the seat of the municipal council; it is so called because of the numerous memorial plaques of events concerning the city.
CHURCH OF SAN GIUSEPPE DEI TEATINI
The side on via Maqueda has always been open to the view of the side elevation and the immense dome of the Church of San Giuseppe dei Teatini. The seventeenth-century search for the solemn finds a wonderful interpretation in this church. The main facade on Corso Vittorio Emanuele, close to Piazza Villena, resumes the canons of Baroque architecture with its large animated mass. Inside, the very tall marble columns divide it, with a dynamic rhythm, into three naves covered in marble arranged with sober wisdom. The vault that runs along the central nave is entirely decorated with colorful frescoes, today almost entirely redone.
Communicating through a narrow and short alley with Piazza Pretoria, this space, dedicated to a genius of Italian music, welcomes various and fundamental monuments dating back to different eras. On one side of the square, formerly called “Piano della Corte” since the entrance to Palazzo Senatorio was located there, stands the Teatro Carolino.
Built in the early nineteenth century and for a long time the busiest theater in the city, in 1860 it was dedicated to the great Catanian musician Vincenzo Bellini. After the devastating fire of 1964, it was only reopened in 2001, becoming a particularly suggestive venue for the programming of the Teatro Biondo Stabile in Palermo.
CHURCH OF SANTA CATERINA
The Church of Santa Caterina, externally of clear Mannerist workmanship, hides an interior worthy of being admired, as it represents a great example of Sicilian Baroque art. Migration, especially of religious people, towards Rome introduced new experiences into the city which, merging with the Sicilian conception of art, gave life to that period of great fervor of which this church is a splendid testimony.
The Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio, known as the Church of the Martorana, was built in 1143 by the great admiral of King Roger, Giorgio Antiochieno.
It is incorporated into more recent constructions and due to the evident interventions undergone in the Baroque age it has lost its original conformation and in part the typical decorations in Arab-Norman style. The Baroque facade overlooking the square, built on the elevation that until then was considered the lateral side, is an evident transformation of the primitive structure of clear Islamic conception.
The original access was from the tower which, before the aforementioned interventions, was in line with the central apse. Internally it has a plan with three naves divided by granite columns with original polychrome capitals. Particular amazement arouses the mosaic coating made by Byzantine workers commissioned by Antiochieno himself.
The atmosphere is much more relaxed than in other churches of the time; the images depicting Saints, Prophets and Angels breathe in large spaces marked by ornamental motifs.
Probably a figure of Christ Pantocrator originally dominated the church from the top of the central apse, which today is adorned with compositions of mixed marble, a lapis lazuli tabernacle and a marvelous painting of the Ascension.
The church was begun in 1564 on the ruins of other churches and finished in 1630 by the Jesuit fathers who, at that time, enjoyed the esteem and support of the Spanish viceroyalty.
The original project, probably by the Jesuit architect Giovanni Tristani, envisaged a sober church with three naves, supported by large marble columns and surmounted by a large dome. While the Renaissance facade appears tidy and sober, inside a decorative mantle extends uninterruptedly on all the walls.
The restoration carried out after the bombings of the last war has however kept the original conformation and the valuable internal decoration almost intact. Marble inlays, stuccos and sculptures fill the interior in a single play of light. Whole generations of Jesuits for about two centuries have meticulously worked on the creation of this sumptuous decoration, creating infinite compositions and representations of cherubs, animals, plants, men, all part of a single decoration. The vault, with its lively frescoes, completes the polychromy of the ornament contributing to what will be defined as Jesuit architecture.
From Corso Tukory, near the station, it enters the area parallel to via Maqueda on the mountain side up to Piazza Casa Professa.
It is located in the heart of the old quarter, called the Albergheria, where the traditional Ballarò food market is organized every day. Regarding the origin of the name of the square and the market, among the many versions existing, the one that claims its derivation from the Arabic balalah, or confusion, is considered the most likely one. In fact, the life full of tradition and color that takes place in this square generates a lot of confusion. However, it is certain that the Sicilian tradition of the market has its roots in Arab culture.
The narrow spaces populated by rivers of people, crowded between countless stalls and deafened by the cries of the sellers, are constants that date back to the period in which the Arabs traded spices with the Indies. Today there are foods of all kinds, mainly local products and typical Sicilian specialties displayed on stalls that invade the square.
SAN DOMENICO SQUARE
The square that opens onto via Roma and which takes its name from the church of San Domenico which forms its background was built in 1724 at the behest of Emperor Charles VI, and was therefore initially called Piazza Imperiale.
Currently it has lost the monumental characteristics it originally had: once it was framed by the facades of the noble palaces that overlooked it and the opening onto via Roma did not exist. The church built on a previous fifteenth-century structure by Andrea Cirrincione demonstrates the increased authority of the Dominican order which, when it settled in Palermo in the first decades of the 1200s, had not been assigned a permanent seat.
The prospectus by the architect Amico, dated 1726, formed by two orders of superimposed columns, interprets a deliberately scenographic monumental Baroque. All the statues that adorn the facade, placed in niches carved into the thickness of the masonry, were sculpted by Serpotta based on a design by the same designer. The Latin cross interior with three naves, divided by mighty columns of the Tuscan order, has such a solemn appearance as to have been chosen as the pantheon by various illustrious figures.
It is the oldest and most popular market in Palermo. It extends into Piazza Caracciolo and its surroundings. On the right side of the square, the first vendor stalls invite you to another picturesque and traditional Palermo market: the Vucciria. It is part of one of the neighborhoods least degraded by urban transformations, which therefore retains its structure almost intact.
The names of the alleys, such as via dei Chiavettieri or via dei Coltellieri keep their original name as evidence of the prevalent activity that once took place there. The center of the market comes to life in Piazza Caracciolo, from the name of the viceroy who had a portico built, which no longer exists, to shelter the patrons who flocked to the market. Today the picturesque stalls, arranged along the two sides of the narrow alleys, are equipped with colorful curtains that form a covered passage, as if they unconsciously wanted to evoke the ancient loggia.