My wife and I recently spent three days in Palermo. We hired a guide (Francesca Lombardo) for all three days and the experience was wonderful. Francesca, a native of Palermo, has been giving tours of Palermo as well as the rest of Sicily for over 30 years. Her knowledge of Sicilian history and culture is incredible. On our first full day in Palermo, we met with Francesca and our first stop was at a park bench just down from the Teatro Massimo. There she gave us a history lesson of the evolution of Sicily (specifically Palermo) over the past 2,500 years. She explained the host of rulers that at one time or another ruled Sicily, from the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans among others that contributed to Sicily today. This overview provided a good sense of things such that it explained much of what we would be seeing while visiting there, specifically in terms of food, architecture, and culture.
We visited several churches and other sights in Palermo over the course of the day. Our first stop was the famous “Quattro Conti” or Four Corners, built by the Spaniards, it cuts Palermo into four quadrants/neighborhoods. We visited several churches throughout the day including the Church of Santa Caterina (Baroque style), the Church of La Martornana, the Church of San Cataldo each displaying elements of Arab, Norman, Byzantine, or Roman influences. Our last visit was to the Palermo Cathedral. Interesting historical point, the church was built by King Norman II who apparently siphoned off money to build his pet project: the Cathedral of Monreale. We also visited the famous open market called the Ballaro market, a street lined with Sicilian “street food”. Our last stop of the day was the Norman Palace and Palatine Chapel.
The next day we strolled through the streets of Palermo focusing on everyday life in the city although we did stop at the Oratory of San Lorenzo. This gathering place was distinctive in that the Baroque style designs are made from polished plaster made from molds although the finished product looks like marble. Francesca walked us through that process. Our last stop that morning was the Church of San Domenico, a church where a famous judge who fought against the mafia is buried. A fine tribute to Judge Giovanni Falcone.
We then headed out to see the famous Cathedral of Monreale, about a 15–20-minute drive outside of Palermo. Built under the reign of King William II, it was built in record time; 15 years. Somewhat non-descript from the outside, inside it is incredible. Completed in 1189, it is adorned with over 68,000 square feet of mosaics many describing biblical events including the creation. A magnificent place.
Our last day included a day trip to Segesta and Erice. Segesta is a very old city once occupied by the Elymians, little info about them other than they came from Asia Manor. There you’ll find Greek temples, and a wonderful outdoor amphitheater. Built with precision, in fact there is not a bad seat in the house, all with perfect acoustics. From there we visited the small medieval city/village of Erice. Not too much there but being able to walk a small town and observe daily life of Sicilians was a treat...lots of shops and restaurants as well.
We had three great days visiting Palermo. Yes, we could have done it on our own, but Francesca provided so much additional information it was so worth it. She knows Palermo like the palm of her hand...thus there were no detours or getting lost looking for a church or museum...she knew where to go as well as the short-cuts.
Francesca is awesome & delightful. She is very professional, courteous, speaks Italian (of course), English and French...hope I’m not missing one. A great sense of humor she made our three days in Palermo unforgettable. I cannot recommend here strongly enough; you won’t be disappointed. You can contact Francesca at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you, Francesca, for all your help. Ci vediamo!