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ITALY: PALERMO

Palermo (Palermo in Italian, Paliermu or Paliemmu in Sicilian) is the principal city and administrative seat of the autonomous region of Sicily, Italy as well as the capital of the Province of Palermo.  

Nowadays Palermo is a fast, brash and exciting city. The mix of arabic and viking influences is one of the strangest and unexpected surprises the city has to offer. Buildings dating from the 11th and 12th century, the heyday of Medieval Sicily, offer this peculiar quality. The most noteworthy and an absolute must is the Palazzo dei Normanni.  Among the most important tourist attractions of Palermo are the city's Norman Cattedrale and the Saracen-Norman-Spanish Palazzo Reale (or Palazzo dei Normanni), a former royal palace added to and altered over the centuries, and now the seat of the local parliament. You can visit parts of the latter building, including the Cappella Palatina, an exquisite chapel containing rich mosaics. Other sights include La Martorana, a splendid Norman church with a Baroque facade ,the imposing Teatro Massimo and Vucciria market (which features heavily in Peter Robb's Midnight in Sicily). Plays acted by marionettes are a local tradition, and you can visit the Puppet Museum (Museo delle Marionette) to learn more about the history of the art - and see a performance if you can.

In the Vucciria quarter alleys are bustling with people selling spices, pine nuts, etc, especially wonderful to see as night falls and the red awnings are illuminated. Sampling street snacks is always fun in Palermo's liveliest market, Ballarò, on Piazza Carmine.

The city was founded by Phoenician traders in the 8th century BC; it was later a Carthaginian settlement. It was taken by the Romans in 254 BC. Conquered by the Arab troops of the Aghlabid dynasty in 831, it flourished as a centre of trade with North Africa. Palermo was thus quite prosperous when it fell to the Norman adventurers Roger I and Robert Guiscard in 1072. The ensuing era of Norman rule (1072–1194) was Palermo's golden age, particularly after the founding of the Norman kingdom of Sicily in 1130 by Roger II. In 1194 Germany's Hohenstaufen ruler, Frederick II, took over. Palermo was conquered by the French under Charles of Anjou in 1266, but Angevin oppression was ended in 1282 by a popular uprising called the Sicilian Vespers. After 1412 the crown of Sicily was united with that of Aragon and subsequently with that of Spain. Palermo declined during this long period of Spanish rule. The city was taken by Italian patriot Giuseppe de Garibaldi in 1860 and made part of the kingdom of Italy. Heavily bombed during World War II, it was captured by Allied forces in 1943. Notable buildings from the Norman and later periods include the cathedral that contains the tombs of Roger II and Frederick II. Palermo is Sicily's chief port, and ship repair is an important industry.


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