Villa Giulia, dedicated to Giulia Guevara, wife of the viceroy Marcantonio Colonna, is a splendid public garden created by the architect Nicolò Palma in 1777. The rigidly geometric design, determined by the square shape, is divided into multiple fields by diagonal and parallel avenues sides, which intersect in the center of a circular square, manifesting the rationality of the Enlightenment thought.
The culminating moment of this line of thought finds its expression in the sculptural representation inside the fountain located in the central square. A putto, emblem of decoration for its own sake typical of the Baroque era, holds twelve clocks on his head which mark the hours with the solar system.
All the presences inside the villa, which allude to a romantic rethinking, are from a later period. The hand of the architect Damiani Almeyda is recognizable in the construction of the music pavilions arranged in a circle around the fountain. The Pompeian-style decorations are similar to those made on the external façade of the Politeama Theater.
The access from the front facing the sea, consisting of a triumphal arch of clear neoclassical tendencies, was built in 1788.
Adjacent to the villa, the Botanical Garden was created in 1789 for the cultivation of healing plants, which were educationally useful for one of the first forms of university: the Accademia dei Regi Studi. Even the design of the oldest part of the garden follows strict geometric rules and specular symmetries.
Inside it there are numerous plant species from all over the world, including the famous soap tree, imposing cicas and also various species of aquatic plants immersed in a large circular tank. The triptych of buildings that can be seen on the front facing via Lincoln was built almost at the same time.
The central one is the work of the architect Leone Dufourny and the two lateral ones by Venanzio Marvuglia, used as a calidarium and tepidarium. The style of the central building adheres to the neoclassical canons of the time and uses the fundamental elements such as the tetràstyle porch with Doric columns and the central dome covering the hall.
When the Arab kings felt the security of the kingdom faltering, they deemed it necessary to move the seat of power to an area open to the outside.
The Kalsa district, near the sea, met the security requirements and became the residential center of the Arabs. Here they built the palace and the mosques, thus dictating the first real controlled expansion of the original nucleus of the city. Piazza Kalsa corresponds to the heart of the ancient Arab settlement and today, although the wonderful Arab buildings have not survived, it also preserves the magic of a more recent history.
The separation with the Foro Italico is still made up of the ancient walls of Palermo which allow a glimpse of the sea through the sixteenth-century Porta dei Greci. Also called Porta d’Africa, it was opened in 1553, even if the external construction dates back to 1582, as part of the renovation works of the Foro Italico, commissioned by the viceroy Marcantonio Colonna.
The building adjacent to the gate was built in 1832 on the ruins of a previous building. The Marquis Enrico Forcella, hence the name of the sumptuous building, interpreting the eclectic taste of the time, was inspired by the Arab-Norman buildings, managing to imitate their style in a perfect manner.
CHURCH OF SANTA TERESA
The square owes part of its prestige to the presence of the admirable Church of Santa Teresa. Completed in 1706 as a place of worship for the Carmelites who lived in the nearby convent, it was designed by the architect Giacomo Amato.
The façade, which is one of the highest manifestations of Baroque art in Sicily, has a great importance. The static nature of the late Renaissance facades is completely abandoned through movements carved into the living stone. With rigorous symmetry with respect to the vertical axis of the façade, statues are arranged in niches which further enrich the movement of the front.
The interior does not have an exact dimensional correspondence with the grandeur of the external façade. The space is organic and full of intense light that penetrates through the openings. A magnificent development is represented by the imposing columns of the choir and the large pilasters that run along the walls.
Several works of great artistic depth are contained within it; among these there are many canvases and in particular the Maternity of the Madonna behind the main altar deserves due attention. The works depicting Santa Teresa and Sant’Anna located in the apse are attributed to Serpotta.
CHURCH OF SANTA MARIA DELLO SPASIMO
In 1492, when one of the most popular Benedictine monasteries on the island joined the congregation of Santa Maria di Monte Oliveto, the latter acquired power and began, already in the early 1500s, to expand into all the centers of Sicily. Thus, in the traditional rejection of Renaissance innovations, by re-employement of the late Gothic stylistic concepts, the Convent and Church of Santa Maria dello Spasimo were born.
Subsequently the site was affected by the fortification plan of the city, commissioned by Gonzaga; the construction of a defensive bastion close to the boundary walls compromised the structure of the complex so as to force the Olivetans to abandon it definitively. Hidden by poor buildings, suffocated by a degraded urban fabric, it can only be accessed from inside the former Principe Umberto Hospital.
The interior is divided into three naves; the lateral ones covered by cross-ribbed vaults, the central one, currently uncovered, with a wooden roof supported by trusses. The marked verticalism of the structures, which are absolutely unadorned, gives them a mystical sense of grandeur.
The central apse beyond the large transept has a wonderful vaulted roof, supported by ribs that intersect in the center forming the shape of a star. There are many visible alterations carried out over the centuries due to the various adaptations: thickening of the walls, obstruction of the single-lancet openings and round arches outside the constructive logic that harmonized the building.
CHURCH OF THE MAGIONE
The Church of the Magione, located on the western side of the homonymous square, is one of the oldest churches in the city. It dates back to 1150 and was first granted to the order of the Cistercians and subsequently to the order of the Teutonic Templars in 1197. Dedicated to the Holy Trinity, it is also known by the name of Chiesa della Magione, from the evolution of the name “Mansio” with which it was called the preceptor of the order who resided in the adjacent abbey.
The original structure has undergone several interventions over the centuries, and it was practically destroyed by the bombings of 1943 and subsequently rebuilt. It was built according to the sober canons of the Arab-Norman style and its apse, decorated with traditional intertwined arches, faces towards Piazza della Magione.
The main facade facing via Garibaldi forms the background to the entrance garden. The three pointed arch portals, of different sizes, framed by ashlars, are matched by three single lancet windows on the upper level. Internally the church has the characteristic slenderness of the Gothic style, with high pointed arches supported by colonnades.
The wooden roof was completely redone after the ruin in 1943; in fact, the decorative pictorial elements typical of Fatimite art have disappeared.
Even if none of the works of art are contemporary with the construction of the church, they are of admirable workmanship. The Blessing Christ is a splendid 16th-century sculptural work, as well as the painting of the Madonna della Grazia placed next to the sacristy.