WHAT WE EXPECT TO SEE:
PORTA FELICE, The gates towards the sea
Porta Felice was built in 1582, at the time of the Spanish Viceroy Marcantonio Colonna, in honor of his wife Donna Felice Orsini. But the works went on for a really long time and eventually stopped when Colonna’s successors decided not to continue with the construction. Everything remained stationary until 1602, when the Viceroy Duke of Ferla, decided to continue the construction of the gates, instructing the architect of the Senate, Mariano Smiriglio. In 1636, on Smiriglio’s death, Pietro Novelli was appointed architect of the project , and he modified the
initial design, especially for what concerned the top of the gates, which remained open. Vincenzo Tedeschi, Novelli’s rival, also took over in the direction of the works, attempting to highlight some technical errors, but in reality almost nothing was changed. The construction of Porta Felice ended in 1637, other improvements were made in the following years. Porta Felice is one of the symbols of Palermo especially for the procession in honor of Saint Rosalia, patron of the city. In fact, from the gates of Porta Felice, the cart of the Festino of Santa Rosalia passes to continue its descent towards the sea.
The heart of Arab rule: Kalsa, arose in the 10th century under Arab rule. The name derives from the term al Khalisa, which means “the pure” or “the chosen”, and it was the first neighborhood built outside the ancient walls, so as to create another defensive pole outside the old town center. The district contained the fortified citadel of the emir, and was in fact the headquarters of administrative life during the Arab domination. In the medieval period houses and palaces arose in place of the original gardens and this caused the area to widely expand. With the Norman domination, from 11 th century, the Kalsa suffered further mutations. The old Arab walls were torn down and the Castello a mare (Castle at sea) was built for defensive purposes. Today, Kalsa is a very picturesque popular district, where you can still breathe the ancient Arab culture surrounded by strong spicy scents coming from kiosks and restaurants located along the way.
On the edge of the Jewish quarter. Located in the Kalsa district, the name derives from the nearby church of the Magione, with an old
adjoining convent. It was once a landmark for the Jewish community, which built gardens in the area that were fundamental during times of famine. The characteristics of this part of the historic center of the city were overturned due to the violent bombing of the Second World War. Today it is possible to observe the remains of the restored foundations of the pre-existing buildings. This place is important for the
Palermitans, not only because today it is a meeting place for young people, but also because it was here that the anti-mafia heroes Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino met as children, playing football through the alleys of the Kalsa.
From Garibaldi to Italian unification. This square is the heart of the Palermitan Risorgimento and the symbol of the fight against the Bourbons
rule. The first riots, which paved the way for the unification of Italy, took place right here in 1820, then again on January 12, 1848. On May 27, 1860, Garibaldi, entering from the nearby Termini Gate, stayed in a noble palace next to the square and it was on this occasion that the square took the name of Revolution Square (Piazza Rivoluzione). Today we can see several memorial slabs that recall the historical events that took place here. In the center of the square is one of the most famous representations of the Genius of Palermo, the secular protector of the city dating back to 1687. This is usually represented as an elderly man crowned with a snake that feeds on his chest.
BASILICA OF ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI
A rare gem full of art works. Its construction dates back to 1254, on the remains of an earlier church destroyed in 1240 by Emperor
Frederick II, and ended around 1277. The better preserved part of the church is certainly its superb late-gothic facade. We can admire the beautiful and majestic thirteenth-century portal where we can find the insignia of the powerful family of Chiaramonte, who were the commissioners, and the zigzag motifs, typical of Islamic art. Inside there are works by very important artists for the Italian and Sicilian renaissance, such as Domenico Gagini. Between the 17th and 18th centuries it was enriched with stuccos by Giacomo Serpotta, frescoes and
especially with the chapel of the Immaculate, one of the most representative works of the Palermitan Baroque, with its lavish decoration and polychrome marbles of exquisite design. The 14th-century basilica was shaken by an earthquake in 1823 and was restored in a more neoclassical style. In the second half of the same century, however, it was once again torn apart by the bombing of World War II. Thanks to the dedication of the Franciscan fathers, the basilica was once again rebuilt with a simpler nude style, but rich in works of art of priceless value accumulated through the centuries.