Monday 21 May 2018. Marella Explorer is on her first cruise. We are on Marella Explorer. At eight o'clock in the morning she slides into Palermo after a day at sea and we prepare for the first port of our cruise.
We have no excursion booked for today. We've never been here before so will just get off the ship and have a walk round. The map we got from Destinations Services last night shows a few things of interest.
This is our first chance to see the pointy end of the ship without walking off the dock into the water and almost everyone stops on their way out of the port to take a photo or two. A great many taxi drivers, bus reps and more desperate men eager to give piggy back rides are waiting to accost us outside the port gates. It doesn't put them off having watched us refuse a score of their colleagues before we reach them. We have to cross the road and get into the city streets before leaving them behind.
I read that Palermo is not the richest of cities. Not that I'm entirely certain what makes a city rich... There are some wonderful buildings and some areas of poverty but that is surely true of most cities? I find these little quirky kiosks enchanting and even the wall full of old overlaid posters on the left adds somehow to the city's character.
But amongst the more neglected areas are some green oases, piazzas and impressive buildings with some good architecture. We came off the ship armed with a map but having plunged into the streets straight way to avoid the press of taxi drivers etcetera, we ended up heading off at an angle to where we wanted to go. This is the Politeama Theatre which holds an audience of 950 and was opened in 1874. The statuary over the entrance represents the Triumph of Apollo and Euterpe, flanked by two knights on horseback.
Before the theatre is a statue of Ruggero Settimo a Counter-Admiral of the Sicilian Navy who retook Malta from the Napoleonic forces and who later became Prime Minister of Sicily following the 1848 revolution that brought about the independent Sicilian Kingdom. This did not last more than a few months however and he spent the next 12 years in exile in Malta, returning to act as the first President of the Italian Senate following the Unification of Italy.
We sat on the low wall to the right whilst I got my bearings on the map and worked out which direction we needed to go to find the old cathedral of Palermo.
Setting off again, we soon came to the Massimo Theatre. This opened in 1897 as the largest opera house in Italy. Above the seating of the stalls there are six galleries of seating. An audience of 1381 can be accommodated.
The final scene of Godfather III was shot here.
Another old kiosk, housing a news stand and tobacconists shop.
Whilst the Mediterranean area certainly gets the heat, it is a dryer heat than we get in the UK and more conducive to the longevity of ancient cast iron lamp posts.
Our route to the old cathedral took us through a maze of narrow streets, most half the width of this at the most and filled with market stalls and the bustle of people, scooters and dogs. We got lost and were trying to head back to the main streets when we overheard someone pointing out the way to the cathedral to someone else. We followed the path indicated!
One stall had a section of tuna, cut crosswise behind the gills. It was at least 12 inches in diameter. Here, we have reached the cathedral area and a protected section of Roman mosaic flooring.
The Roman paving was just to the side of the cathedral grounds and was behind me as I took this photograph. Palermo Cathedral was first built in 1185 though most of what is visible today dates from the 14th and 15th centuries and a great twenty-year project from 1781-1801.
The grounds were well laid out and there were lots of people walking about. A group of novice nuns were taking turns to dance with visitors and then take group selfies with a great deal of laughter and enjoyment. I don't know what they are going to do about Maria...
The portico of the main entrance dates from c1465.
The cathedral is connected to the Archbishops' Palace by arches across the street.
Porta Nuova. It was originally built in the 1400s, and after Emperor Charles V's visit in 1535 after defeating Tunis it was rebuilt in a more ambitious style in 1583/4. Unfortunately it was burned down in 1667 but was rebuilt once more two years later.
On the other side there are two pairs of telamons (supports in the shape of human figures) in the form of the defeated Moors.
Under the canopy glimpsed in the previous photo we stop for a latte machiatto - our favourite Italian beverage (though Limoncello comes close...)
The Praetorian Fountain was built in Florence in 1554 and in 1573 was bought complete with statues by the Senate of Palermo. It was dismantled into 644 pieces and arrived in Palermo the following year, requiring the demolition of several buildings to create a space for it. Unfortunately some statues had been damaged in transit and others were missing altogether so it was 1581 before it took its present appearance.
We walked the length of Via Vittorio Emanuelle which took us downhill all the way to the coast near the port.