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                       Photo: Street art in Palermo 
Palermo is a jumble of periods and styles from baroque to Moorish, to sumptuous Arab–Norman. It's Sicily's capital and lies on the north coast, along a bay known as the Conca d'Oro (the golden shell) because of its glittering citrus groves.

Palermo prospered under the Arab colonisation, when the city was home to Jewish and Lombard merchants, Greek craftsmen and builders, Turkish and Syrian artisans, Berber and Negro slaves. This medieval city was once the most multiracial population in Europe. Unfortunately allied bombs destroyed the port and much of the centre in 1943, but restoration of the city finally began in 1993.

The Cathedral should be seen, as well as the royal chapel, Cappella Palatina, designed by Roger II in 1130 which is a good representation of the fusion of Byzantine, Arab, Norman and Sicilian civilisations. If you don't suffer from claustrophobia, visit (with the aid of expert pot-holers) the 10th century water channels made by the Arabs that once provided irrigation for farmsteads and palaces.

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.

Motobeeps (covered versions of motorbike taxis) are very cheap, will get you around the city quickly and the drivers have basic training as guides. Avoid using cars in Palermo for fear of theft.

The patron saint of Palermo is enshrined in the Santuaria di Santa Rosalia, which was built in 1624 above the city in a mountain grotto. A dreamer had been told to find her relics and wave them three times around the city to rid Palermo of the plague. Her saint's day is in July when there's a six-day extravaganza when Palermo barely sleeps.

Much more than an Italian island!
It becomes clear very quickly that Sicily's proximity to Africa has largely contributed to its culture and society. This is evident within the larger cities such as Palermo, writes Amanda Barnes. more


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