Places to see
Catacombe dei Cappuccini (Catacombs of the Capuchins)
The Catacombe dei Cappuccini is definitely for the faint hearted. Situated under the Capuchins Monastery, this 350 year old catacomb was a favourite burial place for Sicilians rich and poor. It was discovered that these catacombs had a preservative that embalmed the dead bodies. As you make your way through the dark and sometimes spooky corridor you will see a number of well preserved mummies. There are of course the scary corpses, with missing body parts, that look like they belong in a horror movie.
An estimated 8,000 people were buried here between the late 1500s and 1920. The last person to be buried here was a 2-year-old girl, Rosalia Lombaro. Her corpse has been preserved intact and she looks so lifelike that she is called the Sleeping Beauty.
Civica Galleria d'Arte Moderna Empedocle Restivo
This gallery is a tribute to local artists of the 19th and early20th centuries. Started in 1910 this gallery mainly has on display landscape paintings from this era, most of them painted by artists from Palermo. Apart from this there are works by other recognizable artists such as Corrada Cagli, Carlo Carrà, Gino Severini, Giovanni Boldini, Antonio Mancini, Domenico Morelli, Michele Catti and Onofrio Tomaselli.
Museo Internazionale delle Marionette (International Puppet Museum)
Love puppets? Then you must definitely head here for the world’s best collection of puppets, or pupi, as they are known locally. These handcrafted puppets were used in the ancient puppet opera, which was once a very popular local pastime. You will find puppets depicting the exploits of William the Bad, the legends of Charlemagne and the swashbuckling Saracen pirates. Most puppets are centuries old and many were donated from foreign countries, including many countries in Europe, India and the Far East.
Chiesa S. Maria della Catena
This 15th century Gothic-Catalan church is situated in the old harbour district. Designed and executed by Matteo Carnelivari between 1502 and 1534 this church has a beautiful façade that is best enjoyed during sunset. The huge portico with three massive arches and the fight of stairs that lead you to the church itself makes it look gigantic. The triple arch is a Renaissance feature that fuses well with the Gothic design. Vincenzo Gagini, one of Sicily’s most important artists, sculpted the bas-relief beneath the portico. It is just as beautiful inside the church with vaulted naves, artistic windows and Renaissance pillars.
Chiesa di San Francesco d'Assisi
Built in memory of St Francis of Assisi between 1255 and 1277 this beautiful church in the Kalsa district managed to survive the 1943 bombings and the 1968 earthquake. The church is distinct due to its shallow porch and crisscross ornamentation. Of particular importance are the exquisite rose window and the elaborate portal. When restoration took place after the Second World War they decided to stick to its original medieval style instead of the later neoclassical features.
The setting for Boccaccio’s Decameron, La Cuba has no connection with the country but is a local derivative of Ka’aba, the holy Islamic monument. La Cuba was built in King William II’s summer palace in 1180. It is a tall building and its rectangular plan gave it its name. It is a fabulous example of Fatimid architecture.
Inside is a huge hall with a ceiling, which was as high as the building itself, and was covered by a dome. After being owned by royalty La Cuba has been put to use in many different ways by its private owners. It was a leper colony. The Bourbons made it cavalry barracks. It is still part of the military barracks. Visitors are allowed to visit it but can’t photograph its military grounds.