It was built by Arab workers around 1165 at the behest of the Norman king William I and was completed by his successor William II, who rested here during the hottest months of the year, taking advantage of the refrigeration and ventilation systems borrowed from Arab culture.
Externally it has a parallelepiped shape, with three orders of openings and with the signs of the alterations it has undergone over the centuries. An original decorated attic fascia made way for the merlons around 1300, when it was used as a fortified agricultural residence. The heaviest intervention was carried out in the first decades of the 1600s when it was purchased by Giovanni de Sandoval and renovated so that it could be adapted as a permanent residence.
Subsequently falling into ruin, it was acquired by the regional state property around the middle of this century and finally restored. The rigorous symmetry adopted as a constructive and distributive logic of the spaces distinguishes the paths between the private and public areas.
The public area consisted of the entrance vestibule open on two sides and the adjacent fountain room where the water that flowed in special open-air channels constituted both an ornament and an air humidification system.
The gap between the vestibule and the fountain room dates back to the 17th century, with an unusual fresco painted on the intrados of the vault. It depicts mythological characters called “the devils of the Zisa”, from the popular belief that it is impossible to count the exact number. Of the buildings outside the building, the original chapel remains with the typical hemispherical cap covering the rectangular presbytery.
CHIESA DEI CAPPUCCINI
At the end of via Pindemonte, you come across piazza Cappuccini with the convent of the same name and a small cemetery. The current Church, called, not surprisingly, Our Lady of Peace, is the result of an inharmonious reinterpretation of a previous church dating back to the Baroque age.
Inside, among the still recognizable characteristics of seventeenth-century architecture, there are countless works of art, even if the complex owes its fame to the presence of the catacombs, built with patient work by the order itself below the church.
Numerous still dressed skeletons of secular and religious characters, hanging on the walls or buried in open coffins, show the macabre scenario of death. The intention of the Capuchin order, which has dedicated so much and meticulous work over the centuries to the creation of the disconcerting spectacle, is to instill in the visitor a sense of the temporary and futility of human things, as opposed to the eternity of spiritual life of the soul.
Precisely because of the innate familiarity with the concept of death, a small cemetery is located adjacent to the church, always managed and cared for by the Capuchin order. Mortuary chapels and tombstones are inserted in a small garden that is always in flower which, unlike the gloomy and disturbing scenarios offered by the usual cemeteries, deliberately communicates a tranquil sense of peace.
MARKET OF CAPO
Porta Carini was built in 1310 and besides being the only one that has survived, it is probably the oldest of the three gates that allowed access, from the northern side, to the ancient city.
From the gate, along the street with the same name up to Piazza Capo and along the narrow converging alleys, one of the oldest markets in Palermo spreads out. Similar to a Kasbah, the picturesque scenery first appears and then involves us with the crowd of patrons who throng in the narrow passages between innumerable stalls, while the sellers loudly scream the merits of their goods.
The theater was begun by Giovan Battista Filippo Basile in 1875 and completed by his son Ernesto from 1891 to 1897. The building of undoubted neoclassical taste, despite having the monumental character desired by the needs of the society of the time, still maintains disciplined proportions between the parts that make up the articulated volume.
The building is completely isolated on all four fronts; the room is surmounted by a large circular dome while a monumental staircase leading to a majestic pronaos leads to the entrance. Despite the enormous dimensions, columns 13 meters high with a diameter of 1.25 meters and a coffered roof 4 meters wide, everything is proportionate and integrated into the structure.
The foyer placed in succession to the pronaos is a lavishly decorated rectangular room, which is just under 12 meters wide and 31.70 meters long. It is the point of influx of the public and confluence of all the routes, and it connects the entrance with the coffee room, with the covered passages for the shelter of the ancient carriages, and with the hall, through a further small vestibule from which the stairs depart lead to the stages.
The view of the stalls enchants with its red velvet drapes; five orders of boxes, plus the gallery are arranged in a horseshoe and facing the proscenium.
In the center is the royal box which is accessed via a separate staircase called precisely the royal staircase. It has the dimension of three boxes in width and two orders in height. It too is preceded by a larger hall than the other stages, almost 100 square meters in area. In addition to the lighting and ventilation mechanism created in the mobile roof divided into eleven transparent panels, there are numerous constructive peculiarities of the theatre.
The pictorial works of the hall of Rocco Lentini, those of the foyers of the royal box of the Padovano and the frescoes in the public foyers made by Giuseppe Enea have a special value.
VIA RUGGERO SETTIMO
Named after the admiral and senator Ruggero Settimo, it is considered as the living room of Palermo for the elegance of the shops that overlook it. It owes its current prestige also to the fact that it connects the two most important squares of the city: Piazza Verdi, where the Teatro Massimo stands, and Piazza Ruggero Settimo, where the Teatro Politeama is located. The layout outside the city walls, conceived in 1782 by the magistrate Antonino la Grua, Marquis of Regalmici, was intended to facilitate the connection with the summer residences of Piana dei Colli. It ended up, instead, dictating the direction of the true expansion of the city; the area began to acquire prestige and the nobles preferred to build new palaces there, so as to be immersed in the green countryside of Palermo.
From the Quattro Canti di Campagna onwards, numerous buildings have been kept unchanged, such as Palazzo Galati, in whose construction Marvuglia and Marabitti participated, and Palazzo Francavilla by Ernesto Basile, where the new Art Nouveau culture can be admired in embryo.
Via Ruggero Settimo flows into a large space formed by the contiguity of two squares linked along the axis of via Libertà: Piazza Castelnuovo and Piazza Ruggero Settimo where Politeama theatre stands, built between 1867 and 1874, almost simultaneously with the Massimo theatre, by Giuseppe Damiani Almeyda. Although the destination is different, the dualism between the two most important theaters in the city is resolved as evidence of a different interpretation of the classicist style. The entrance, consisting of a huge triumphal arch with a bronze sculptural composition, reveals the cultural background of the architect who, inclined to the Roman Hellenistic repertoire, offers polychrome solutions typical of Pompeian buildings. Innovative is also the solution of creating the foyers between the colonnades that adorn the outside of the round hall.
In the same square is the Kursaal Biondo which, designed by Ernesto Basile in 1913, originally formed a large complex including a casino, a café-restaurant, a vast garden for open-air performances and a hall for shows. Today only the hall remains, deeply transformed (former National cinema and current Bingo hall), and the beautiful external façade with the allegories of Dance by Archimede Campini.
From Piazza Politeama to Piazza Vittorio Veneto, Via Libertà is considered the most important of the city’s roads due to its size, the elegance of its shops and the double row of plane trees that flank it.
The first section built in 1860 adheres to the post-Enlightenment trends of the period and refers to the great projects implemented by Baron Hausman in Paris, as part of the great urban revolution of the end of the century. The Parisian logic of the boulevards finds its response in a plan of great reforms that brought the city to the level of the great capitals of Europe. The second trunk, from Piazza Croci towards the Favorita, continues with a single carriageway, adequately lined with majestic plane trees and bordered for a long stretch by the English Garden, arranged in 1851 by Giovan Battista Basile on the typical model of English villas. With the construction of the new buildings, via Libertà soon became the new living room of the Palermo bourgeoisie who preferred this walk to the traditional one of the Foro Italico. Today along this road linking the modern and the ancient, history and the present, and along the perpendicular streets, countless shops make it the most representative commercial area of the city and the place where, after a century of history, it continues to be pleasant to walk and meet other people.
A must: a walk through the pedestrian-only Via Principe di Belmonte to enjoy a fresh aperitif sitting at the tables of the bars! A beautiful late 19th century side street that connects Via Ruggero Settimo to Via Roma.