|The name Palermo derives from the Greek word Panormos, meaning “all port”. In fact, it was the spacious natural harbour that favoured the earliest settlements and the founding of the city on an oblong rocky spur bounded to the north by the Papireto River and to the south by the Kemonia. The ancient port, of which only the present-day Cala remains, lays between the mouths of the two rivers. Evidence exists of the presence of different peoples in the area: the Sicans in the area: the Sicans in the 12C BC, followed by the Cypriots, Cretans, Elymi and Greeks. The first permanent urban settlement, however, was founded by the Phoenicians between the 8C and the 7C BC. The Paleapolis (from the Greek “old city”) lays on the upper part of the oblong rocky spur and was surrounded by strong city walls. A second city, the Neapolis (from the Greek “new city”), was later built between the two rivers, but outside the city walls and closer to the port. Between 485 BC and 306 BC Panormos was involved in the longlasting struggle for supremacy between the Greeks and Carthaginians. From 254 BC, the city was ruled by the Romans. Christianity soon flourished and spread, as is witnessed by the presence of a series of catacombs, including the famous ones of the Papireto (Porta d’Ossuna). In 536, the Gothic garrison which had occupied the city was driven out by the Byzantine general Belisarius, and Palermo passed under the rule of Constantinople, which had reunited the Roman Empire. The first Cathedral was built between 590 and 604 on the initiative of Bishop Victor.||
Palermitans, Agatho and Sergius, became Roman Popes and were later
canonized. The city was stormed by the Saracens in 831, after a one-year
|The Hauteville dynasty was followed by that of the Hohenstaufens, with Emperors Henry VI and Frederick II. The reign of Frederick II was of no advantage to Palermo. On his death (1250), a period of political unrest began, to slowly lose its role of predominance, while Naples was gradually increasing its prestige. The crown of Sicily (a vassal of the Holy See) was assigned by the Pope to Charles of Anjou, the brother of the King of France. The Angevins (French) went so far as to subject Sicily to military occupation. This led to the “Vespers Revolution”, which broke out in Palermo on Easter Monday 1282, causing the expulsion of the Angevins from the island. The legitimate heir to the throne was King Peter of Aragon who, supported by the Sicilian nobility, was crowned King of Sicily in Palermo on 4 September 1282. This marked the beginning of the weak dynasty of the Aragonese of Sicily, who became subject to the great aristocratic families. In the 14C Palermo was in fact under the rule of the powerful Chiaramonte family. But, in 1392, the Aragonese of Spain put an end to these aspirations to autonomy. Andrea Chiaramonte, the only one of the four Vicars who resisted the troops of Martin of Aragon, was captured and beheaded in the Piano della Marina, the square overlooked by his sumptuous Palermitan palace, the Steri, which can still be admired today. In 1415 the crown of Sicily was joined to the crown of Aragon, and the island was ruled by Viceroys. These alternately resided in the Chiaramonte family’s Steri or in the Castellammare (the sea castle), and only at a later time, in the 16C, in the ancient Royal Palace. 15C art was characterized by the “Sicilian Gothic” style, bearing Catalan influences. The most outstanding architect of the time was Matteo Carnalivari of Noto, to whom the elegant church of Santa Maria della Catena, in the Cala quarter, has been attributed. Carnalivari also designed Palazzo Abatellis and Palazzo Aiutamicristo (1490), chosen by Charles V and Don John of Austria as their residences in the following century. Between the 15C and the 16C, new impulse was given to Palermitan sculpture by the workshop of the Gagini, a family of skilful sculptors and stucco decorators (Domenico, Antonello and a host of relatives).||
Gagini did not confine their work to sculpturing single statues of
Madonnas and Saints, but inserted them into magnificent architectural
ensembles, enriched with frames, panels, balustrades depicting storie of
Saints and delicate decorative motifs, which embellished church apses
and chapels, thus introducing Tuscan Renaissance taste into Palermo.
sculpture, Palermo outclassed the rest of Italy with the greatest stucco
decorator of all time: Giacomo Serpotta (1656-1732), the author of the
splendid stuccoes in the Oratories of Santa Cita, the Rosario and San
Lorenzo. His work was continued by his son Procopio and by numerous
disciples. Great names in painting were those of Pietro Novelli
(1603-1647), Filippo Paladini, Vito d’Anna and Antonio Grano. At this
time, public festival – both lay and religious – were at the height
of their splendour, also thanks to the rich scenographic ensembles, to
the external decorations of churches and palaces, to the magnificent
Triumphal Chariots of St. Rosalia (the city’s patron saint) and to the
“firework display machines”.
thanks to the elegant work of Ernesto Basile, Filippo’s son, Palermo
became the Italian capital of the liberty architectural style. Among his
best-known works are: the Villa Igiea Hotel, Villa Florio, the Florio
Pavillon, Villa Deliella (no longer extant), Villa Basile, the Kursaal
Biondo, the seat of the Cassa di Risparmio, etc. The best painter of the
time was Francesco Lojacono; in sculpture, the best-known artist was
Mario Rutelli. Meanwhile, Palermo was expanding beyond its ancient walls,
onto the area previously used for the great National Exhibition of 1891.
The “middle-class” part of the city was thus created. In the 1950s,
creowds of people from the neighbouring provinces arrived in Palermo,
mostly attracted by the prospects of a job in the regional
administration, resulting in an enormous building expansion.