PIAZZA MARINA (MARINA SQUARE)
The current arrangement was defined in 1864, when Basile built the Villa Garibaldi which, with its magnificent and rare vegetation, adorns one of the most beautiful and historic squares of the city.
The large open space, surrounded by buildings of undoubted beauty, full of historical and artistic interest, was in ancient times the stretch of sea where the Kemonia and the Papireto flowed. Already in the Muslim era it was filled up; it has always been a space not affected by buildings, until it became the theater of all sixteenth-century cultural and popular events.
The presence of elegant buildings facing the square, such as Palazzo Fatta and Palazzo Galletti, testifies to the historicity of the place which, thanks to some churches, also has an interesting architectural importance.
SANTA MARIA DELLA CATENA
The Church of Santa Maria della Catena, located between the square and the ancient port of Cala, was built in the 16th century on the ruins of an older church, overlooking a small square. The recent access stairway became necessary when the slope that descended from the Palazzo delle Finanze to the sea was flattened.
The architectural features of the building have instead remained unchanged especially in the main facade where the elegant portico stands out, a symbol of the Catalan Gothic tradition. Inside, the Norman style prevails, also because of the recent restorations which have almost completely purged the posthumous eighteenth-century decorations.
CHURCH OF THE GANCIA
With access from the opposite side of Piazza Marina, the historic Via Alloro has always been a popular road axis for the construction of noble residences and monumental buildings.
The Convent and Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, known as the Church of the Gancia, has two visible elevations; the main one, where the character of the fifteenth-century architecture is clearly visible, and the lateral one, overlooking via Alloro, compromised by subsequent restoration interventions.
Its construction was begun by the friars of Santa Maria di Gesù in the early 1500s on the remains of an older church. The architectural features of the building have instead remained unchanged especially in the main facade where the elegant portico stands out, a symbol of the Catalan Gothic tradition.
Inside, the ancient structure in the shape of a Greek cross, with a large central nave bordered by side chapels, preserves valuable works of art.
Adjacent to the Church of the Gancia, Palazzo Abatellis, also known as Palazzo Patella, was commissioned by the Pretore of Palermo, Francesco Abatellis, at the end of the 15th century.
The imprint of the master Matteo Carnelivari, an illustrious Sicilian architect, characterized the building which became one of the most interesting examples of Catalan Gothic architecture in Sicily. Built on two levels, it is organized around a large courtyard that can be glimpsed from the entrance hall, as soon as you enter the splendid portal.
Great constructive coherence is found in all the elements characterizing the culture of the time. The sober building, enriched by a Gothic decoration interpreted by Carnelivari himself in an Enlightenment key, seems carved in stone. Elegant three-mullioned windows with slender columns overlook the large courtyard and on the right side a slender loggia on two orders is supported by wide-span arches that give the building a refined, almost airy appearance. After the recent restoration, supervised by the architect Carlo Scarpa, modern museography finds in Palazzo Abatellis an extraordinary example of an innovative display of works of art.
The numerous works exhibited in the rooms on the ground floor follow one another without a precise chronological order, unlike what happens on the first floor where the art gallery is located.
Among the works on display, certainly the “Triumph of Death” Dated XV century represents the medieval conception of death that terrifies young people, hurling deadly arrows, and that, after having exterminated bishops and prelates, spares the poor and disinherited people who implore it. The numerous and fascinating sculptures on display trace a precise process of the development of Sicilian art from the first century of this millennium to 1500.
Although of the ancient façade only the crenellated tower and a window compartment have been preserved, Palazzo Chiaramonte, known as Steri, testifies to the great innovation of taste that characterized fourteenth-century Sicilian architecture.
The internalization of all the previous cultures, from the Arab-Norman to the Swabian, that were reworked according to the culture of the new times, led to an architectural production with great expressiveness which was called Chiaramontana.
The birth of this valuable monument, whose name Steri derives from the Latin Hosterium, fortified palace, is due to Manfredi Chiaramonte who began its construction in 1307, completed by Manfredi III in 1380. After being occupied by the Spanish viceroys, in 1600 it became the seat of the Holy Office until 1782.
During the succession of these numerous events, the building underwent heavy transformations, such as the opening of the large entrance door from Piazza Marina or the demolition of the protective fortifications of the building.
With a square plan, it was formerly closed to the outside and had access from openings on the eastern side of the building which develops around a large courtyard, bounded by a portico supported by two arches on each side on which the coat of arms of the Chiaramonte family is still visible .
On the first floor, the ogival arches become three on each side, increasing the rhythm of an elegant loggia onto which all the rooms of the building look out and which leads to the large hall surmounted by a magnificent wooden roof, worthily frescoed by the masters of the time. A mezzanine floor between the first and second levels housed the prisons established by King Philip III and therefore called “Philippines”.
The large Sala della Torre on the second floor, covered by an exposed wooden structure, is the only original elevation. In the atrium there is a small church, dedicated to Sant’Antonio Abbate, built at the same time as the building. The interior has a single nave with an apse, while on the outside the entrance portal with pointed arch adorned with an elegant bas-relief is of particular value.
CHURCH OF SAN FRANCESCO
The Church of San Francesco, which stands on the homonymous square along the current Via Paternostro, testifies to the evolution of the architectural spirit from the 13th to the 18th century. The facade, in the extreme essentiality of the design which reveals the presence of the three internal naves, highlights the simplicity of the taste of the Friars Minor who completed the works in 1302.
The great compactness of the surface, enlivened by the presence of the precious rose window and the elegant entrance portal, appears intact, not disfigured by the transformations that affected the church in the following centuries.
Over time, various noble chapels were added to the original layout, including those introduced in the 14th and 15th centuries with great historical and architectural importance. The 14th-century chapels fully express the Gothic taste of Chiaramonte, while the others bear witness to the first sculptural expressions of the Renaissance, interpreted by Gagini and Laurana.
Between 1533 and 1549 the first heavy alterations took place. The thirteenth-century wooden roof was replaced with cross vaults and of the three apses only the one on the left, dedicated to the Saint, kept its original shape. The nineteenth-century restoration following the terrible earthquake of 1823 completely changed the architectural homogeneity of the structure: the ogival vaults became rounded and the cross vaults were replaced with barrel vaults.
If on the one hand the bombings of the last war reduced the church to ruinous conditions, on the other they allowed a radical and diligent restoration, which brought the structure back to its primitive conditions.