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Palermo is the capital of the Italian island of Sicily. From the ninth to the thirteenth century it was a thriving city. It was once the capital of the Kingdom of Sicily (which also included Southern Italy). The decline started when the capital of that kingdom was moved to Naples. Palermo is a city of contrasts: beautiful historic buildings next to dilapidated houses, and an old, chaotic city next to a modern, sleek and even luxurious district.
Undoubtedly, Palermo's biggest attraction is the Norman Cathedral from the twelfth century. That cathedral was built on the site of a mosque, which was, in turn, on the site of a Byzantine church. This way, every prevailing culture left its mark on the city by clearing marks from the foregoing. The cathedral has been, moreover, often reconstructed during the years, which explains the hodgepodge of architectural styles. Inside the church you can see sarcophagi of ancient kings. Other churches in Palermo are worth seeing too, like the church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti (with bright red domes) and the Chiesa della Martorana.
Near the cathedral is the Normans Palace. That building may not look like much from the outside, but the contrary can be said for the interior. The showpiece is the Capella Palatina, which entirely dates back to the twelfth century. This chapel has particularly beautiful mosaic panels.
Palermo has a very interesting Archaeological Museum. The Museo Archeologico Regionale has relics from the time of the Etruscans, Carthaginians, Romans and Greeks. Some items are over three thousand years old.
Slightly gruesome but interesting are the Catacombe dei Cappuccini, the underground burial site of a Capuchin monastery, just west of the city center. Not just any cemetery, because the dead were mummified. More successful on some bodies than others. Some mummies are truly stunning; if they wouldn't lie motionless it would look if like they're still alive!
Palermo's nightlife has been on the rise in recent years. Near the Teatro Massimo you can find the entertainment center Champagneria, which is partly pedestrianized. There are big clubs, but also lounge bars and restaurants. The Via Candelai in the heart of old Palermo is the domain of ethnic restaurants. There's cheap accommodation here too. The historical Arab quarter Kalsa is one of the newcomers in the nightlife, not least because of the large Kals'Art event that takes place here every summer. In the evening you can then enjoy live music and cultural performances.
Located eight kilometers south of Palermo is the beautiful Cathedral of Monreale. This cathedral is situated a few hundred meters high on the Monte Caputo and overlooks the Golden Shell, the basin in which Palermo lies. The interior is literally dazzling: what you see is all bright colored mosaic. Those Mosaics cover a total area of six thousand square meters. In comparison: the cathedral of Venice has 'only' four thousand square meters of mosaic. The cloister next to the church is clearly designed by Arab architects.
The combination of Norman, Byzantine and Moorish styles can be found everywhere in Sicily. For example, inside the cathedral of the fishing village of Cefalu, east of Palermo. Check out the rest of the medieval center too.
The Greeks were the first to inhabit Sicily and they founded the cities Catania, Messina and Siracusa on the East Coast. Near the latter you can see the most remains of Greek civilization. Temples, theaters and other monuments. The most valuable pieces are exhibited in the local Archaeological Museum. In the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento on the south coast remains of the Greek city Akragas can be seen.
Traffic in Palermo is chaotic. Cars are often deadlocked, while scooters whiz by left, right and center. You can park your car on the city's outskirts to continue your journey by public transport. Leave nothing of value in your car. Although the center of Palermo has indeed got many parking garages, you will have to get through that traffic first though... Best is to leave your car at the hotel. Check when booking whether there is parking and if it is included in the price.
Palermo Airport is located 32 kilometers west of the Sicilian capital. The airport is easily accessible by rental car: it lies right next to the highway A29. The exit to the airport is clearly signposted.