Visiting Palermo means entering the deepest and most intense heart of Mediterranean culture. This sun-drenched land saw the passage of many civilizations which have deeply marked its architecture and monuments and, more importantly, created an overall and highly suggestive alchemy. Palermo was originally inhabited by the Phoenicians, soon followed by the Carthaginians and in 254 BC the Romans who turned it into a prosperous municipality. In the following years, the city was occupied by Vandals, Ostrogoths, Longobards and Byzantines, on till the Arab conquest which represented a new stage of splendour. In the 11th century the city was conquered by the Normans and then by the Swabians. That was the time of Frederick II's court, when Palermo became a cultural centre renown throughout Europe. Later the city went to the Angevins, then the Aragonians and finally the Bourbons, before it was annexed, after the Mille's expedition, to the Kingdom of Italy.
Palermo's numerous and eclectic artistic treasures are the fruit of an extraordinarily rich history which saw wave upon wave of colonising powers come to the island to exploit its vast economic and strategic potential. The variety and sheer number of monuments has brought Palermo to be described as an enormous open-air museum
Palermo's harbour is one of the most ancient in the Mediterranean. The name of Palermo is actually from the Greek Pan-Ormos, that is All Harbour.
The city's urban fabric still shows the ancient tangle of oriental style roads which formed in its period of maximum splendour. The palaces are splendid, from various ages, first and foremost Palazzo dei Normanni, of Arab origin and then rebuilt by the Normans, with the splendid Cappella Palatina, and then La Zisa from the 11th century, Palazzo Chiaramonte from 1300, and Palazzo Arcivescovile, seat of the Museo Diocesano. Also worth seeing are the religious works, the famous Cathedral, of the 12th century, the "Martorana", of the Norman period, the Chiesa di San Cataldo, built on Roman walls, the Chiesa di San Giovanni degli Eremiti, its cupola one of the city's symbols, and the monumental group of the Spasimo, where there are exhibits, shows and interesting winter and summer events. If you go to Palermo you can't help but be seized by the natural beauties of parks and villas, a clear example the splendid Parco della Favorita, the Orto Botanico and Villa Bonanno, where there are remains of Roman houses dating back to the 1st century AD.