Lexicon of Sicily, from Palermo to Pirandello

Sicilian encyclopedia for travel and knowledge

Palermo is the principal city and administrative seat of the autonomous region of Sicily, Italy as well as the capital of the Province of Palermo. Inhabitants of Palermo in Italian are referred to as Palermitani or poetically Panormiti. Palermo was founded in the 8th century BC by Phoenician tradesmen around a natural harbour on the north-western coast of Sicily. The Phoenician name for the city may have been Zîz, but Greeks called it Panormus (see also List of traditional Greek place names), meaning all-port, because of its fine natural harbour. It should be noted however that the city was never a Greek city-state, but was later part of the Greek speaking Eastern Roman Empire. Palermo is widely considered to be the most conquered city in the world, as shown in the following article. Palermo remained a Phoenician city until the First Punic War (264-241 BC), when Sicily fell under Roman rule. The Roman period was one of comparative calm, Palermo coming under the provincial administration in Syracuse. When the Roman Empire was split, Sicily and Palermo came under the rule of the Eastern Byzantine Empire. In the 9th century, Sicily was divided into two prefectures by the Byzantines. The two prefects went to war with each other, and Euphimius, the winner, dreamt of reuniting the Roman empire. However, he lacked an army, so he asked the Arab Aghlabids rulers of North Africa, at the time the up-and-coming power in the Mediterranean, to lend him theirs. Within a week of the Arabs' arrival in Palermo in 827, Euphimius died mysteriously, and they declined to leave. By 878 all of Sicily, except for a few Byzantine enclaves near Taormina, was controlled by the Saracens. In 905 they captured those too. The Arab rulers moved Sicily's capital to Palermo where it has been ever since. Under Muslim dominion Palermo became an important commercial and cultural center, a flourishing city broadly known in all Arab world - it is said that it had more than 300 mosques. But they were also years of tolerance: Christians and Jews were permitted to follow their own credo. In 1060 the Normans launched a crusade against the Muslim emirate of Sicily, taking Palermo on January 10, 1072 and the whole island by 1091. The resulting blend of Norman and Arab culture fostered a unique hybrid style of architecture as can be seen in the Palatine Chapel, the church San Giovanni degli Eremiti and the Zisa. Sicily in 1194 fell under the control of the Holy Roman Empire. Palermo was the preferred city of the Emperor Frederick II. After an interval of Angevin rule (1266-1282), Sicily came under the house of Aragon and later, in (1479), the kingdom of Spain. Sicily's unification (1734) with the Bourbon-ruled kingdom of Naples as the kingdom of the Two Sicilies inflicted a devastating blow on the elite of Palermo, as the city was reduced to just another provincial city, the royal court residing in Naples. Palermo rebelled in 1848 and held out against the Neapolitan crown until May 1849. The Italian Risorgimento and Sicily's annexation (1860) to the kingdom of Italy gave Palermo a second chance. It was once again the administrative centre of Sicily, and there was a certain economic and industrial development. Palermo survived almost the entire fascist period unscathed, but during the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943 it suffered heavy damage. The importance of Palermo got another boost when Sicily became (1947) an autonomous region with extended self-rule. But any improvement was thwarted by the rising power of the Mafia, which still today is a dramatic feature of the city, as well as the whole Southern Italy. Palermo is a city with monumental problems, but is also a city of almost three millennia of history, beautiful palaces and churches, colourful markets, marvelous food and a distinctive cultural identity.

Travel Information for Palermo


Pantalica. The site consists of two separate elements, containing outstanding vestiges dating back to Greek and Roman times: The Necropolis of Pantalica contains over 5,000 tombs cut into the rock near open stone quarries, most of them dating from the 13th to 7th century B.C. Vestiges of the Byzantine era also remain in the area, notably the foundations of the Anaktoron (Prince's Palace). The other part of the property, Ancient Syracuse, includes the nucleus of the city’s foundation as Ortygia by Greeks from Corinth in the 8th century B.C. The site of the city, which Cicero described as “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of all”, retains vestiges such as the Temple of Athena (5th century B.C., later transformed to serve as a cathedral), a Greek theatre, a Roman amphitheatre, a fort and more. Many remains bear witness to the troubled history of Sicily, from the Byzantines to the Bourbons, with, in between, the Arabo-Muslims, the Normans, Frederick II (Hohenstaufen, 1197 to 1250 A.D.), the Aragons and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Historic Syracuse offers a unique testimony to the development of Mediterranean civilization over three millennia.

Panarea The most polished of the Aeolian Islands is the smallest: Panarea is the siren that attracts the tourists. Its rock formations are the most dramatic, its streets the tidiest and, during the brief high season, helicopter shuttles clutter its airspace. However, high season is a relative term for the likes of Panarea, where winter storms can render its 150 full-time residents completely incommunicado for weeks on end. And while Panarea's summertime population can turn the island's narrow roads into congested throughways, it is still all rather tame compared with other Mediterranean destinations.

Pantelleria's long history is due to its geographical position and is directly connected to the sea. The Sesioti came in 5,000 B.C. to extract and work obsidian. This black, shiny, sharp vitrified lava was considered as gold in the stone age. Interesting remains of this population still exist in the Mursia area: defensive walls, foundations of old homes, and, most important, megalithic funeral monuments called 'Sesi'. The Phoenicians arrived in Pantelleria sometime during the IX th century B.C.; they first called it Yranim and later Cossyra. This was the beginning of the island's golden age, for these people planted grapes, issued coins with the Goddess Tanit's image, built water tanks in several areas, strongholds at San Marco, a temple by the lake 'Specchio di Venere', and the first harbour, remains of which are still visible. Then came the Romans, who reinforced all the strngholds, followed by the Byzantines, who greatly improved living conditions. The Arabs landed on the island around 700 A.C. and remained until 1200 A.C. Their culture had a very strong influence on Pantelleria and its presence is still evident. The Arabs called this island al-Quasayra, (name still used by the Berbers of North Africa for Pantelleria), then Bent-el-rion, daughter of the wind..
They created the 'dammusi' (from the Arab: vaulted structure), typical houses built with lava blocks and a dome roof to collect rain. They also introduced the cultivation of cotton and olives, improved the cultivation of zibibbo grapes and built the abmirable fortified city of Pantelleria (unfortunately almost completely destroyed during the 2nd World War), around the 'Castello Barbacane'. Next came the Normans, followed by the Swabians, the Angevins, the Aragonese and the Bourbons. In 1860 Pantelleria was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy and has shared its historical vicissitudes up until the present.

Patti was helped by its position, it was a junction between the road Palermo-Messina and the internal road to Randazzo. In 1892 the railway arrived too. Nowadays the town is the middle of a tourist area and from there you can make several excursions to Messina, Catania, Palermo, to Randazzo-Etna, Nicosia-Enna-Catania and to the Aeolian Islands. Among the more important beach localities of its territory we can mention: Tindari (10 Km), Marinello, Mongiove, Marina di Patti and Sorrentini. Thanks to its beauty and its fertility it has been inhabited since very ancient times, at least since. The Bronze Age, this is shown in the underground structures in the suburd "Monte". The origin of the current town dates back to the age of the ancient Tyndaris, from where some people migrated, who had survived when their city was destroyed by a strong earthquake. They called their neew town "epì Akten", that means "on the shore" and from that name became Patti. The oldest part, which is medieval, was built on a hill, crowded with narrow lanes and picturesque staircases and culminated on "The Castle", the newest part is on the North towards the shore in the plain, and nowadays is linked with the old seaside town. The most interesting monuments are the Cathedral built in the XVIII century; the church of St. Michele of Medieval period; the Sactuary of Madonna di Tindari placed nearby Patti and renowned destination of pilgrimages. It keeps in its inside a statue of "Madonna Nera" in Byzantine style. Villa Romana di Patti is situated in proximity to the underpass of the highway. The large Imperial Roman villa was discovered during construction work on the highway. The complex is arranged around a peristyle with a columned portico leading to various rooms, one of which is with three apses, paved with mosaic featuring geometric motifs and depictions of domestic and wild animals. There would also have been baths on the east side of the house.

Pergusa is a small town in Sicily, which rises on some hills about 10 km south Enna, the highest Italian chief town. Pergusa is near the only Sicilian natural lake, the Pergusa Lake, which represents a fundamental point in the migration of bird. The area is also surrounded by hills and forest known as Selva Pergusina. Pergusa Lake is also well known as having a racing circuit, known as Autodromo di Pergusa, encircling its shores. The track has existed since the 1960s and has played host to various sporting events, even today.

Piazza Armerina. The Villa Romana del Casale is located about 5km outside the town of Piazza Armerina. It is the richest, largest and most complex collection of late Roman mosaics in the world. The Villa Romana del Casale is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Villa Roman del Casale was constructed on the remains of an older villa in the first quarter of the fourth century, probably as the centre of a huge latifundium covering the entire surrounding area. How long the villa kept this role is not known, maybe for less that 150 years, but the complex remained inhabited and a village grew around it, named Platia, derived from palatium. It was damaged, maybe destroyed during the domination of the Vandals and the Visigoths, but the buildings remained in use, at least in part, during the Byzantine and Arab period. The site was finally abandoned for good when a landslide covered the villa in the 12th century CE, and remaining inhabitants moved to the current location of Piazza Armerina. The existence of the villa was almost entirely forgotten (some of the tallest parts have always been above ground) and the area used for cultivation. Pieces of mosaics and some columns were found early in the 19th century, and some excavations were carried out later in that century, but the first serious excavations were performed by Paolo Orsi in 1929, and later by Giuseppe Cultrera in 1935-39. The latest major excavations were in the period 1950-60 by Gino Vinicio Gentile after which the current cover was build. A few very localised excavations have been performed in the 1970s by Andrea Carandini.

Pelagian islands. These islands surrounded by the deep sea separating Sicily (225 km) and Tunisia (100 km) take their name from the Greek word "pèlagos" (sea). Europe's southernmost point is Capo Maluk of Lampedusa at a latitude of 35°30' North. This latitude explains the typically "African" climate and environment of the three Paelagian Islands: Lampedusa, Linosa and Lampione (province of Agrigento).

Pirandello, Luigi (1867-1936). TOWARD the close of 1934, when the Swedish Academy of Literature in Stockholm looked around to see what man in the field of literature had produced the most distinguished work of an idealistic tendency, their choice fell on Luigi Pirandello, an Italian novelist and playwright, native of Sicily. Luigi Pirandello spent the first nineteen years of his life uneventfully in Sicily. When he was nineteen he went to Rome to study at the university, and in 1891 went to Germany where he presently received a degree in Philosophy and philology from the University of Bonn. Pirandello wrote novels and short stories during some thirty years before he began writing for the stage. For the most part they created no great stir even in his native Italy. Some critics claim that the reason for the lack of interest in Pirandello's writings in inherent in the stories themselves; others, that the lack of recognition was due to the fact that he was a genius a quarter-century ahead of his time. Probably the best known of his novels is The Late Mattia Pascal which appeared in 1904. It is the story of a man who shams death, then tries in vain to begin life anew in a different atmosphere and under another name. Pirandello's short stories have been gathered together in one volume under the title, Novelle per un Anno . . . a collected edition of 365 short stories, one for every day of the year. With his dramatic work Pirandello sprang suddenly into the fame that was denied his strictly literary efforts. The play that first brought him to prominence, both in Italy and in foreign countries, was Six Characters in Search of an Author. In this play he introduces the design with which all his subsequent plays deal to a greater or lesser extent . . . the ambiguous relationship between reality and belief. Six Characters, however, is more than the expounding of a theory; it is likewise more than just a "trick" play. It is a dramatization of the artistic process of creation, whether for the stage or the novel. Other Pirandello plays well known to the literati if not to the general public are: Right You Are, Henry IV, Tonight We Improvise, Each in His Own Way, Liolà, and As You Desire Me. In 1934, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. p> Porto Empedocle is a town and comune in Italy on the coast of the Strait of Sicily, administratively part of the province of Agrigento. The primary industries of Porto Empedocle are agriculture, fishing, ironworking, pharmaceuticals and rock salt refining. Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, ordered a tower built to protect the territory's reserves of harvested grain in the fifteenth century. Later the tower was converted to a prison and is now a social and cultural center. The comune became autonomous in 1853. The town took its present name in 1863. It is named after the Agrigentine philosopher Empedocles. In 2003, the town changed its official denomination to Porto Empedocle Vigata, after the name of the fictional town where the popular novels by Andrea Camilleri, famous Italian writer and native of Porto Empedocle, about detective Inspector Montalbano are placed. The main church is Parrocchia Maria SS.del Buon Consiglio, which is located in the center of the town. The marl Scala dei Turchi is located nearby, on the coast ot Realmonte.