Palermo as you have never seen it: a bird’s eye view over Italy’s cultural capital of 2018. Today we wish to share with you 6 of our recommended panoramic experiences, all within walking distance of our Butera28 Apartments.
The Church of Santa Caterina di Alessandria
Gazing up at the church from Piazza Pretoria, you could easily mistake the ‘Chiesa di Santa Caterina delle Donne’ as lost in time. However, strolling just a few yards into Piazza Bellini reveals the entrance to one of Palermo’s historic centre’s true architectural gems. This Sicilian baroque / rococo- style church was completed in the year 1596, although there were plans for the construction of a female monastery under the Dominican Order from the year 1310. The building is dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria, born 287 AD in Egypt.
Upon entering Santa Caterina, the phantasmagorical interior quickly catches the eye as well as the striking single nave – hugely typical of the Counter-Reformation era. The interior features a combination of stuccos, frescoes and ‘tramischi’ – ornamental marbles that intertwine to form the most sumptuous of altars. The richly painted frescoes dominate the ceiling and delicate floral designs of marble cover the walls. Despite the preservation of her elaborate Renaissance composition, Santa Caterina did not escape destruction during the uprising of the secret revolutionary society, I Carbonari, during the nineteenth century.
However, the real treat comes from climbing to the dome. After an ascent of 120 steps, you will be welcomed by spectacular panoramas of Palermo’s skyline dominated by dozens of spires, cupolas and rooftops all the way to mountains and the Tyrrhenian Sea. You can look down directly over Piazza Pretoria and it’s marvellous fountain, whilst people mill through the streets around Quattro Canti. On the way down, it is difficult not to admire the courtyard surrounded by the monastery, originally intended to house simple female prostitutes and the poor. It is also now possible to purchase the ‘Badia sweets’, prepared according to the tradition of the nuns of Palermo’s convents by the church’s entrance. The initiative plays an integral part in recovering the history of the Monastery of Santa Caterina di Alessandria.
Steps to dome: 120
Price to ascend to the dome: 5,00 Euros
The Church of Santissimo Salvatore
Located in Palermo’s historic quarter of ‘Albergaria’ and overlooking Via Vittorio Emanuele, the construction of this baroque masterpiece began in 1682. In accordance with Sicily’s century-long domination by foreign powers, Santissimo Salvatore experienced significant change throughout the ages. During the Norman Conquest, the area was home to a place of worship for Basilian nuns in 1072. It was declared a religious institution and protected by King Roger II of Sicily. A century later, Queen Constance of Altavilla, also Queen regnant of Sicily from 1194-98, asserted herself as an educator of the monastery, nun and abbess. The original Norman church was completely reconstructed during the Spanish period of rule in 1528, and three naves and chapels were incorporated. Jesuit Angelo Italia oversaw the construction of the dome on the presbytery and the loggia and niches were added to the church’s façade in 1694.
Unfortunately for those who slaved away for centuries to attain architectural perfection, the aerial American bombing of 1943 almost completely destroyed the interior of Santissimo Salvatore, along with over two-thirds of the historic centre. During the two decades succeeding the war, major renovations reinstated the central altar. The sophisticated polychrome marble and internal ornamentation still stun today.
At present, Santissimo Salvatore’s main function is that of an auditorium, though it has not lost its essence of a religious establishment. For the last four years, the large terrace of the dome has also been open to the public. The entrance to the cupola is around the corner from the church and, after an ascent up spiral staircases, you will see a complete view of Palermo’s historic centre. The oldest street of the city, Via Vittorio Emanuele, is in full view with ant-sized tourists and Sicilians strolling up and down the street. The old wooden beams supporting the dome of Santissimo Salvatore are in full view too, which you can marvel at whilst you walk the circumference of the roof terrace.
Steps to dome: 147
Entrance fee: 2,50 Euros
The Bell Tower of San Giuseppe Cafasso
The Church of San Giuseppe Cafasso and its adjoining bell tower are both located on Via dei Benedettini in the quarter ‘Albergaria’. The striking bell tower is dedicated to Saint Joseph Cafasso (1811-1860), who was both a Roman Catholic priest and symbolic social reformer in Turin. Thus, he was associated with a group of ‘Social Saints’ because of his activism and radical work. Often denominated the ‘Priest of the Gallows’, Saint Cafasso is remembered as a patron of the prisoners, due to his considerable work with those condemned to die.
Built upon the foundations of twelfth-century house of worship ‘San Giorgio in Kemonia’ in 1765, the church was elevated to a parish in 1953. Baroque in its exterior, the interior decoration is Neoclassical, with rococo style stuccoes attributed to Giovanni Maria Serpotta. It also features a single nave along which there are three chapels.
A vantage point that has garnered great interest is the late eighteenth-century bell tower, which gives its visitors unparalleled perspective. You can even look down upon its neighbouring church San Giovanni degli Eremiti, built in 1132, which is charming symbol of Arab-Norman architecture. From the bell tower, you can also revel in magnificent views of The Palace of the Normans, Piazza Indipendenza and Palermo’s Cathedral against the backdrop of the nearby Monte Pellegrino. Looking out towards the Tyrrhenian, the domes of Albergheria’s most opulent churches come into view, including San Giuseppe dei Teatini, Santa Caterina, Casa Professa and La Chiesa di Carmine Maggiore.
Steps to the bell tower: 102
Entrance fee: 2 Euros
La Cattedrale di Palermo
Undoubtedly, Palermo’s most iconic monument is its Cattedrale – an architectural complex, which is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Despite the groundbreaking having taken place in 1185, the cathedral was officially completed in the eighteenth century and is characterised by the presence of Norman, Moorish, Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical styles. This is owed to centuries of foreign conquest, which has both tarnished and expanded Palermo’s history.
Originally built upon the site of a twelfth-century Roman temple and Byzantine basilica, the cathedral underwent much modification, in both its exterior and interior. In 1184, during the Norman period of conquest the Archbishop of the city, Gualtiero Offamiglio, founded a Muslim mosque on the site. His objective was to exceed the grandeur of Monreale’s twelfth-century cathedral, which is still recognised as one of the most impressive in Sicily.
The Norman structure was inevitably modified throughout the centuries. The structure was ‘gothicised’ between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and then elaborated by the Spaniards. The south porch, introduced in 1493, is a masterpiece of Catalan style. However, significant change came about in 1767 when the Neapolitan architect, Ferdinando Fuga, was entrusted with the reconstruction of the Gothic/ Romanesque interior after several earthquakes compromised the integrity of the complex. Fuga added the small subsidiary domes over the nave chapels and the tall dome over the crossing. Nevertheless, the apses were never touched by restorers, which retain their extraordinary Geometric decoration today.
The key aspect to enjoy is the cathedral’s breath-taking roof terrace, which appears to split Palermo’s skyline in two! You can gaze down upon the courtyard of worldwide visitors marvelling at this astounding architectural wonder. Your eyes may also travel to the nearby ‘Villa Bonnano’ – characterised by dozens of lush palm trees, adding to the exoticism of the city.
Steps to roof terrace: 110
Entrance fee: 5 Euros
The penultimate of our rooftop recommendations is atop the shopping centre La Rinascente, on Via Roma. Whether you’ve chosen to shop ‘til you drop, or if you simply crave a drink and a moment to reflect, why not take advantage of one of the most unforgettable views here? You may choose from Il Bar for an aperitif, cocktail and light snack, or for those wishing to fully appreciate the 360° panoramic views, there is Obicà and Sicilò. Obicà prides itself upon being a contemporary establishment, serving only the freshest Mozzarella di Bufala from Campania, with an emphasis on utilising local ingredients. On the other hand, Sicilò offers its diners tasty and popular Sicilian street-food from both land and sea
Whatever you fancy, this bird’s eye view of Palermo in unmissable. From glimpses of the branches of the thirty metres tall and 150-year-old Ficus macrophylla evergreen in Piazza Marina, to the 65- metre tall Assitalia skyscraper which is Palermo’s tallest building. Or even Teatro Massimo, Europe’s third largest opera house to the Tyrrhenian Sea, reminding us of Sicily’s place in the heart of the Mediterranean.
Steps to the roof terrace: take the lift or escalators
Entrance fee: Free!
Appartamento 9 – Butera 28 Apartments
Last, but by no means least is the sublime vista from Butera 28’s very own sea-view apartment 9. Located on the third floor of the seventeenth century Palazzo Lanza Tomasi, we now invite guests from around the world to stay, enrich themselves in the history of the Palazzo and the Tomasi di
Lampedusa family, and to participate in weekly cooking classes and tours. Guests in this apartment will have exclusive access to a large roof terrace with a dining table and sun loungers in order to profit from the sights of Foro Italico, the Spanish ‘Mura delle Cattive’ and the gulf of Palermo as it stretches out to the Mediterranean Sea.
Steps to the roof terrace: 25
Entrance fee: Exclusive to the lucky guests of Apartment 9!
Palermo has drawn travellers from far and wide for centuries and has enchanted us for millennia. For our readers that long to refresh their perspective over the 2018 Italian Cultural Capital, we invite you to explore our list of recommended rooftop experiences for yourselves and we promise that you will be enriched by “the purity of the outlines, the harmonious unity of the sky with the sea and the sea with the land”, as put perfectly by Goethe.