We have friends in Haarlem, the Haarlem in the Nederlands, not the Harlem in New York City. We are going to meet them in May at a spot off the Ijsselmeer in the middle of nowhere. It’s where we first met them in 2000. It was their idea, and how charming of them to think of it! We met as we were docking our boat, they helped us get to the bank, and later invited us for Oranjebitter, a liquor made from oranges. This beverage is issued every year in honor of the monarch, still on the throne,
We met them again later that summer near their house. It was July. The Tall Ships were in Amsterdam on their annual circuit, which this year concluded here. Thousands of smaller boats joined in parades to the harbor. We joined K and A, their daughter M and her husband B in the latter’s boat for a trip to Amsterdam harbor in the twilight. There were hundreds of small craft doing the same. We were bumper to bumper, so to speak. When it was dark out came a large barge stuffed with fireworks as well as huge loud speakers. It was a great show! I am glad Kees was at the helm as it was a pitch black sail back to their harbor.
Oratorio della SS. Carita di San Piedro is a small church originally connected to a secular effort to raise funds for the ransom the religious abducted by pirates. The anteroom has outstanding frescoes by Guglielmo Borremans. One is “The escape of St. Peter from the Prison,” the other “The Glory of St. Peter.” There is also “Francis of Assisi,” “Achaio,” “Vincenzo de ‘Paoli,” and “Paolino.”
Oratorio della SS. Carita di San Piedro
Chiesa San Agostino
Construction on the Romanesque Chiesa San Agostino (Chiesa di Sant’Agostino) is locally known as Santa Rita. The building was built in the early 14th century . The rose window has 12 intersecting semi-circles and has an unusual trim that defines the entire otherwise plain facade. The Gothic portal features arabesques (abstract patterns) and plant motifs.
Chiesa de SS. Trinita de Maggione is an 11th century Arab-Norman Church located near the old port area, called La Cala, roughly equidistant from Vila Giulia, thus one of the oldest parts of Palermo. Next to it is where the family home of anti-Mafia hero Giovanni Falcone once stood. The church was built in 1191 near the end of the Norman era, over the remains of a mosque. Starting in 1192 the Cistercian order controlled the church. This order held that mosaics and decoration is a distraction interfering with worship, thus the church is rather bare. Yet it has a certain charm, and a tranquility from the stark contrast between the stone of the building and the green of the grass of the cloisters visible to the left, and the monks’ chants playing over the speakers.
King Tancredi, who ruled over Sicily 1189-94 buried his son Roger in the church and wanted to be buried in the Basilica as well.
As of 1492 the church was governed by one Rodrigo Borgia, from Valencia, who would later become Pope Alexander VI, one of two Spanish popes, both among the most corrupt. Perhaps things were not so tranquil then, given the expulsion of Moors and Jews, and the pleasantries of the Inquisition.
Necropoli Punica dates to between the city’s founding in 734 BCE as ‘Ziz’ (changed to Pánormos by the Greeks) in 734. The Necopolis on Corso Calatafimi has an excellent if somewhat technical narrative panel. You can walk into the dig and one level down into several burial sites. The site is behind the Norman Palace, placing it between the now diverted rivers Papimeto and Kemonia Rivers. (‘Punic’ refers to the Carthaginians, who were Phoenician in origin).
The panels discuss the ancient development of the city. The earliest description of the site dates to the 10th century, by an Arabic geographer. Archaeological digs show the first area settled to be nearby the Palazzo Normani. It then goes through the eastward expansion in the 6th c. BCE. They even discovered the unit of measure used in the layout – the cubit, 54 centimetes/21.3 inches.
Human remains were either inhumanted or cremated. Some remains were found in calcarenite (a type of limestone) slabs, simple trenches, others were laid out in underground tombs. They show you examples in the dig, including that of a 5-year-old girl. There are decorative motifs linked to the Egyptians, and an oinochoe, a large jar used to mix wine.
I should have brought my Indiana Jones hat – I felt the buzz going down these stairs:
Open the door and you are a greeted by an amazing display of Baroque art in a brightly lit interior. There are stuccoes by Paolo Corso and Giuseppe Serpotta. Frescoes in the nave and the vault by Tancredi, Borremans and Velasquez. They were severely damaged during WW2 but expertly restored. There is a wood crucifix by Fra’ Umile. Giacomo Besio of the Theatines order built the Chiesa di San Giuseppe dei Teatini at the beginning of the 17th century. It has a large a blue and yellow ceramic dome.
There is a circuit of churches in Palermo. These buildings are centuries old. Due to high maintenance and restoration costs they charge a small entrance fee. On the circuit is Santa Ninfa which we happened across walking down the center of via Maqueda, today being pedestrian only. I noticed the name on the exterior plaque and as my grandmother was born in a village named Santa Ninfa, we walked up the steps to take a look. Two women sat at the door selling tickets. Neither spoke English. One offered a written guide but none were available in English. I jokingly said, well since there are none in English, please come with us and explain everything. Much to my surprise, she got up and did just that. We were very glad she did. I only wish I could have taken notes.
Construction of the church built in Ninfa’s honor began in 1601, financed by donations from several noble families of the city, including the Englishman Sir John Francis Edward Acton, commander of the naval forces of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and prime minister of Naples under Ferdinand IV. Giovanni Macolino, Giacomo Amato, Giuseppe Clemente Mariani, Ferdinando Lombardo (the facade) and Giuseppe Venanzio Marvuglia were the architects. Doors opened in 1660, though much was lackeing. They completed the building in 1750 .
There are some relics of Saint Camillus in the church, below a gorgeous altar made of wood painted to look like marble. You have to get close to see that it’s wood you are looking at. In addition the church houses many artworks of important artists. Giacomo Serpotta has several statues fabricated in stucco. The slender curves are exquisite. Our guide explained that these stucco statues are built around a wooden skeletal structure and then formed by hand. Unfortunately I have no photos of his work in this church. Here is an example however:
Here are two pieces that are in the church:
There is a painting by Guglielmo Borremans, a rare if not the lone representation of the “Death of Saint Joseph,” about whom the Christian Bible says so little, as our impromptu guide noted at the end of her charming 45 minute tour of this obscure church.
Ninfa is one of four patron saints of Palermo, and is credited with ending a drought. A few meters away from the church is a four way intersection, Quattro Canti. Our guide told us she is one of the four commemorated in the four statues you see there.
There is a forced perspective wooden roof painted to look like a dome! There is a point at which you can stand, look up and it is as if the peak of the dome is in the very center. There is one in San Ignacio in Rome.
Palazzo de Normanni, the Norman Palace, is one of several Arab-Norman buildings in Palermo. It was the seat of the Norman kings, whose reign started in 1072, just 6 years after conquering England, ending in 1139. The Palace began as an Arab structure in the 10th century. Vaults from that period remain visible. The Punic (Carthaginian) ruins are in the lowest part. The Palace was built between two rivers and was moated.
The Capella Palatina is the best example of the Arab-Norman-Byzantine style. The mosaics are superb, the wood roof excellently painted, the marble work expertly crafted. Sala Normana is not altered from its original state, but much of the rest has been modified.
The Sicilian Parliament, the oldest legislative body in the world, meets in the Palace. It’s first meeting was in 1097. These two mono chromatic pieces adorn the meeting room.
Walked through the huge Mercato Ballarò market today. Vendors loudly barking (abbanniate) their wares. Scooters inch through the crowds viewing the colorful booths, cars struggle through intersections, almost nudging the pedestrian traffic. A few restaurants pass out fliers but we had great street food, lunch for 2 for 6 euros, eggplant pasta with a tomato ricotta sauce and an arancini (rice ball). A woman next to us ordered a panelle on bread – they really do eat those here. Panelle is made of ceci (garbanzo) flour. Sounds Arabic in origin- falafel for example is made from the same flour.
This oldest Palermo market goes from Piazza Casa Professa to near Corso Tukory. They sell much of the local fruit production- oranges (ugly but tasty), artichokes, rapini and more. It looks like a mass of crowded stalls and with the road invaded by wooden boxes that contain the goods that are constantly shouted, abandoned, chanted to advertise the good quality and good price of the products. There is some meat but much seafood.
A fun place to visit, a great place to shop!
There is much confusion about a vegetable called rapini, brocoli rab, and brocoletti. Brocoletti was developed in Japan as a combination of kale and brocoli. It is officially called brocolini. Rapini aka brocoli rab has buds that resemble brocoli. Compared to brocoletti the buds are small and the stalks much more slender. Rapini is what they sell in southern Italy. Taste wise they seem very close to me, and I will take either one! Mixed with sausage, garlic and olive all it is a great contorno! We bought some and cooked it up!
Museo Archeologico Regionale Antonio Salinas has examples of Punic (Carthaginian), ancient Greek, as well as a rare Phoenician sarcophagus. It contains some of the fine work from the Greek temples of Selinunte, built by the Elymians.