Short break: Palermo, Italy

Si­cily is a scenic joy, from its vol­ca­noes to this year’s Ital­ian Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture, Palermo, whose food and his­tory of­fer a fine ini­ti­a­tion, says

Wanderlust Travel Magazine (UK) - - Contents - Graeme Green

Si­cily’s new Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture is a riot of ar­chi­tec­ture, food, tra­di­tion and… err, pup­petry. Dis­cover why the past is writ large in the streets, build­ings and mar­i­onette the­atres of the city

Play a game of word as­so­ci­a­tion and it’s likely that the word ‘Si­cily’ will be met with one re­sponse: ‘the Mafia’. It’s a great cause of frus­tra­tion for Si­cil­ians that, with so much to of­fer on this beau­ti­ful and di­verse is­land – fine food and wine, a flower-filled coun­try­side, beaches, Mount Etna and pretty coastal vil­lages – they’re still widely known as the home of a crime syn­di­cate fea­tured in films and TV se­ries such as The God­fa­ther and The So­pra­nos.

Italy’s largest is­land – and, in fact, the largest is­land in the Mediter­ranean Sea – has been con­quered across the ages by many of its neigh­bours, in­clud­ing Greek, Ro­man, Arab, Nor­man and Span­ish forces. All of them have left their marks, with cas­tles, palaces and tem­ple ru­ins on hill­tops and coastal out­looks, and a mix of in­ter­na­tional cuisines, from cous­cous (of­ten served with fruit) to can­noli, the ri­cotta-filled bis­cuit dessert loved by Tony So­prano, which was in­tro­duced to the is­land by the Arabs but later adapted by nuns who ar­rived with the Span­ish.

That mix of food, art and ar­chi­tec­ture is nowhere more ev­i­dent than in the is­land’s cap­i­tal, Palermo. The highly walk­a­ble Old Town is rich with cul­tural trea­sures, many of which were given UNESCO World Her­itage sta­tus in 2016. At the Zisa, in west­ern Palermo, for ex­am­ple, you’ll find Moor­ish ar­chi­tec­ture and cal­lig­ra­phy along­side Nor­man, Byzan­tine and Latin in­flu­ences, while Mar­torana Church’s ceil­ing has plenty of Byzan­tine mo­saics and Is­lamic in­scrip­tions.

The city has been named Ital­ian Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture 2018, and will also host the 12th Man­i­festa (man­i­festa.org; un­til 4 Nov), the Euro­pean Bi­en­nial of Con­tem­po­rary Art, so there are lots of events planned through the year – see turismo. co­mune.palermo.it for more in­for­ma­tion.

But there is plenty to see, do and eat in any given year in this cul­ture-filled city, which lo­cals say has been cleaned up im­mensely. Here, you can stroll around flea mar­kets or be over­whelmed by the food stalls of Capo, Bal­larò and Vuc­ciria, load­ing up on arancini (fried balls of rice filled with meat or cheese; see p14 for a recipe), can­noli and cas­sata Si­cil­iana, a tasty ri­cotta-filled cake.

It’s easy to soak up the lo­cal cul­ture, with opera and clas­si­cal music events at Teatro Mas­simo (teatro­mas­simo.it/eng), the grand opera house seen in The God­fa­ther III, and cen­turies of paint­ings and sculp­tures at the Gal­le­ria d’arte Moderna (gam­palermo.it/en). But per­haps your most mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence will be watch­ing pup­pets chop­ping each other’s heads off at one of the many Opera dei Pupi (pup­pet theatre) shows, a tra­di­tional en­ter­tain­ment listed by UNESCO as part of the Oral and In­tan­gi­ble Her­itage of Hu­man­ity. That’s the way to do it.

Cul­ture club Food, palaces, his­tory and (yes) more food are all on of­fer in Italy’s Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture

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