The city seems to have been founded as a port and main colony by the Phoenicians in 734 BC as Ziz.  This name is maintained today in the Zisa palace.  The Phoenicians are credited with building the straight road now known as Corso Calatifimi out from the city into the interior of the island.  Later it passed to Carthaginian control and then two Greek colonies were founded here.  They gave the city the name of Panormos by the fifth century BC when the Phoenicians began using the name on their coinage.  With the conquest of Sicily the town became Roman in 254 BC, then Vandals, Ostrogoths and finally, in 535, the Roman Empire returned in the shape of Byzantium.  This long period of Roman rule ended in 831 when the city fell to the Arab invaders, under whom it became the capital of Sicily in place of Syracuse.  The Arabs knew the city as Balarm.

In 1072 Robert Guiscard and Roger Hauteville conquered the Arab capital and nearly sixty years later it became the capital of the new kingdom of Sicily in 1130 and remained such until 1816 although the Sicilian possessions on the mainland fluctuated with time.

As the Norman capital many buildings were built in Palermo, but few date back to before their time.  The main a
ncient survivals are the 2 rings of city walls.  The first ring surrounded the ancient Phoenician city, now called the Palaeopolis (Old City) and Neapolis (New City).  Some of the monumental walls survive in the Cassaro (castle) district - particularly the part built into the Santa Caterina monastery - as does the main street, decumanus, now called Corso Vittorio Emanuele.  In the medieval period this defence was extended to include the sea castle - Castello a Mare - within the defences.  

Within the city the ancient architectural monuments can be split into two classes, the religious and the profane.  The most important religious sites are Palermo cathedral; the Norman chapel in the palace - Cappella Palatina of the Palazzo dei Normanni; the hermitage of St John - San Giovanni degli Eremiti; the church of St Mary of the Admiral - Chiesa della Martorana and the church of San Cataldo.  The best profane monuments include the 4 palaces; the Norman palace - Palazzo dei Normanni; Zisa; Cuba and the Steri palace - Palazzo Chiaramonte and the sad remains of Mare Castle.

Why not join me at these and other Sicilian sites?  Information on this and other tours can be found at Scholarly Sojourns.


Copyright©2019 Paul Martin Remfry