Sicily Ends in Palermo
The title of this entry notwithstanding, I hope Sicily will be eternal. Of course, it can’t be. Nothing is eternal. If my understanding of the prevailing relevant scientific theory is correct (don’t bet on it), at some point, our sun will turn into a red giant, destroying all life on Earth. Scientists think that will happen in about five billion years, give or take. So we’d better hurry up and enjoy our planet while we can. I did my part in that by enjoying this trip to Sicily, which ends here in Palermo.
Tomorrow, the weather and airline gods willing, I will board a flight from Palermo, Sicily to Frankfurt, Germany. There, if all goes well, I’ll connect to a flight to my hometown, Toronto, Canada.
But, tomorrow is tomorrow. Today is today. And today I wandered some more and saw some stuff in Palermo.
Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum of Palermo
The Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum is an amazing little museum.
Selinunte was an ancient Greek city by the southwest coast of Sicily. Ancient Greeks liked their temples. And they built a number in Selinunte.
Today, some large parts of the architectural elements of some of those temples are affixed to the walls of the Salinas Archaeological Museum. For example, the museum displays a long line of lion-headed waterspouts from the top of one or more sides of Temple of Victory. Large friezes from each side of Temple E hang on another wall. Friezes from Temple C hang on another wall. And on one large wall hangs a considerable portion of the pediment from Temple C.
(If the signage is any indication, archaeologists simply, with a couple of exceptions, assigned temples letters rather than being able to figure out their ancient purposes and name them accordingly.)
The museum also contains the usual collection of other archaeological artifacts, including pottery, statues, figurines, additional architectural elements, and sarcophagi.
As impressive as the small collection is, the museum itself is enchanting. It is housed on the ground floor of a former convent. Two courtyards grace the museum.
The first courtyard, the smaller of the two, is just inside the entrance to the museum. It has a patterned stone floor. As for vegetation, there are just a few potted plants. A small, raised, roundish concrete- or stone-walled pool (I don’t know if it’s concrete or stone) sits in the middle of the courtyard. (Actually it’s a regular polygon, but I didn’t count the sides. Hence, “roundish.”)
A statue sits in the middle of the little pool.
Distributed equally within the pool, three piles of stones, each with a flat-topped stone on top, rise a little above the water surface. When I was there, a turtle rested on the top of each of the stone piles. At first, I thought those turtles might be sculpted rather than living. But I stared at each of them long enough to see the heads on their otherwise still bodies move ever so slightly. Other turtles paddled lazily around the small pool. I think the turtles on the rocks were devotees of zen.
The second courtyard is further into the museum. It is larger and lushly vegetated. A few statues sit in the courtyard. Another small pool sits at the centre. This pool doesn’t have turtles. Instead, it has goldfish and a larger, grey fIsh I couldn’t identify. A small island of vegetation and a few small sculptures sit at the centre of the pool.
I only saw one of the larger grey fish. I hope she wasn’t lonely.
Cloisters surround the larger courtyard. The museum houses all of its archaeological exhibits in the former convent’s ground floor, in rooms off the cloisters or in the cloisters themselves, with a few architectural elements in the larger courtyard.
Oh, I forgot to mention the best part. I didn’t know this until I reached the ticket booth at the museum, but entrance is free on the first Sunday of every month. This is the first Sunday of May. The ticket seller or, rather, ticket-giver today, handed me a free ticket. Bonus!
Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio All’Olivella
There’s a church beside the Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum. It wasn’t listed in the tour book I’m using or in the walking tour app I have. But it looked appealing and the front door was open.
One thing I’ve learned in old-world Europe, if you see an old church and it looks appealing and its door is open, duck inside. You’re likely to find at least a smidgen of beauty.
And that’s what I did even though no book recommended I do so. It is quite beautiful inside. Arches stretch between the pillars of the centre aisle. And crystal chandeliers hang from the arches.
I snapped a couple of pictures, inside and out. When I did so and looked at the photo in my iPhone’s album, the automatic location function told me it is the Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio All’Olivella (chiesa meaning church).
The Oratory of San Lorenzo
After yesterday’s failure, I made it to the Oratory of San Lorenzo today. Yesterday, I used Google Maps to direct me. Today, I tried Apple Maps. Apple Maps wins that round.
The entrance to the Oratory of San Lorenzo is in a simple door pretty much abutting a small street. The door has a sign on it, but it is not otherwise special.
The Oratory is special. It is a small room with a number of stucco friezes on the walls. The stucco looks like stone. The friezes all have portions missing. Some a lot, some a little. Beneath each frieze they placed illustrations that show what the friezes looked like when they were complete.
In addition to the friezes, there are some sculptures of the allegedly heavenly Virtues, also in stucco.
The Oratory also has a reproduction of a Caravaggio altarpiece. It’s not a reproduction done with the intent of plagiarizing the work. The real Caravaggio piece was in the Oratorio until someone stole it in 1969. It has not yet been recovered. The reproduction current stands in its stead.
Giovanne Chiaramonte started construction of the Palazzo Chairamonte in the first half of the 14th century. He and his family were rich and powerful in Palermo. They lived large. Until they weren’t and didn’t.
The Chiaromonte family added onto and remodelled the palazzo until they largely completed it in the 1380s.
At the time, Sicily was considered to be part of Aragon, which was in the Spanish realm.
In 1392, the then head of the family, Andrea Chiaromonte, who was anti-Arogon, rebelled against Spain and refused to let the king of Spain into Palermo. The king wasn’t pleased. In fact, he was displeased with extreme prejudice. He had Andrea captured and beheaded. The Spanish forces mounted his head on the wall of the palazzo as a warning to others.
That ended the line of the Chiaramontes. Spain took over the palazzo and used it for administrative purposes.
Then something unexpected happened. They used a portion of the palazzo for the offices and cells of the Palermo branch of The Spanish Inquisition. Which just goes to show, nobody expects The Spanish Inquisition.
(Sorry, no. I won’t reprise the entire Monty Python Spanish Inquisition skit. If you’re interested, you can find it on YouTube.)
Prisoners in the Inquisition cells started drawing graffiti on the walls. At first, they used powdered terra-cotta scraped off the floors and wetted down with spit or urine to create their art. When they started drawing religious themes, the guards gave them other art materials to draw with.
I don’t know where the prisoners peed after they no longer needed their urine for art. The tour didn’t expose that.
In addition to drawings, the prisoners’s wall-graffiti also included writing about their plight. When the Inquisition ended in 1782, all of the Inquisition records were burned. The written graffiti on the walls then became the only remaining Inquisition records in Palermo.
I learned all this from various sources, including one informative sign and the guide on the mandatory tour. The tour included the cells, where the original graffiti still exists on the walls.
Back to the Palermo Seafront
After visiting the Palazzo Chiaramonte, I walked back down to the section of seafront I found on my second day of this trip. People walked, played, and flew kites in the seaside park. However, most of the kite fliers were kite vendors flying kites to promote their wares.
The vendors flew strings of several kites lined up in a row along the string. But the couple of non-vendor kite-fliers flew only single kites.
Being back at the seafront reminded me of something I saw prominently from there, but I didn’t mention it in that previous entry. I didn’t mention it because, first, it didn’t appear particularly striking and, two, I hadn’t yet been to Cefalù. Here it is: Palermo has its own monster rock. Although, I have no idea what it’s called, if it indeed has a name. And to be honest, I’m not the least bit interested in what it is called, if anything.
The reason for my lack of interest is it’s nowhere near as picturesque or interesting as La Rocca in Cefalù. Cefalù’s La Rocca rises dramatically behind Cefalù. And the view of it along a sightline that takes in the long beach, the town, and La Rocca is spectacular. In Palermo, the rock sits behind Palermo’s uninspiring industrial port.
In addition, ancient walls and buildings top La Rocca. Admittedly they’re not readily visible from the base, but they’re there.
In contrast, a crop of communications towers sprout from the summit of Palermo’s rock. Although, to be air, some sort of modern building, possibly a hotel, sits about halfway up and off to one side of Palermo’s rock. I don’t know how people get up there. I assume there’s a road on the other side of the rock.
Despite being roughly the same height and form, Palermo’s rock deserves little mention. La Rocca, on the other hand, deserves gushing over.
Palermo’s Gallery of Modern Art (Galleria d’Arte Moderna)
The first thing to mention about Palermo’s gallery of modern art is that this is the old world. Their definition of modern art is different from what comes to mind for me. To me, modern art is Jackson Pollock’s seemingly random, sometimes violent splashes of paint. Or, possibly, someone else’s uniformly pure white canvas. Maybe a pure white canvas with a single, perfectly formed vertical or horizontal line of one colour or another. Or some other abstract painting or sculpture that only the most pretentious of “modern art” snobs understands, or, at least, claims to understand.
Modern art means something different here. Here, modern art means anything created during the 19th century or up to the first couple of decades of the 20th century. Don’t ask me what they call works from after the first couple of decades of the 20th century. Future art?
Only one work in the permanent collection of the modern art gallery was abstract. All of the other paintings and sculptures, spread out over three levels, was of identifiable objects—portraits, complete people, activities in progress, landscapes, seascapes, buildings, cherubs, etc. Yes, cherubs. I said “identifiable” not “real.”
And being more modern, very few of the works depict religious themes.
One of the works was kind of a meta experience for me on this trip. It was a painting of Taormina. The artist painted it from a distance. One thing the artist captured that I wasn’t able to see is a very prominent, snow-capped Mount Etna. So, I guess Mount Etna really is there. Then again, it’s a painting, not a photograph. Maybe the painter is just teasing me, but he is in on the scheme to hide Mount Etna from me.
I know I have a reputation for not being particularly into art. And that reputation is well deserved. But this gallery is of a tolerable size. And it has, to use an art history cretin’s term, pretty pictures and sculptures. I felt I absolutely got my money’s worth at this gallery. Then again, it too participates in the first Sunday of the month free program. So, getting my money’s worth was a low bar.
So ended my last day of this trip to Sicily.
To be honest, I could have done with a day less in Palermo. I booked more days here than any other stop on my journey because it has more noted tourist sights than elsewhere in Sicily. But that’s quantity’s triumphing over quality.
Palermo’s streets tend to be dirty and the buildings run down. That’s not to say one should avoid Palermo. Quite the contrary. It has a lot of good points. If you have a lot of time in Sicily, definitely go to Palermo. But if you don’t have a lot of time, you can do better.
Overall, I loved, absolutely loved Sicily. Look at my posts on Agrigento, Piazza Amerina, Ragusa, Siracusa, Catania, Taormina, and Cefalù. I often gushed over those places.
If I had it to do over again, I would have stretched my total time in Sicily to a few more days, spent a day less in Palermo, more in the other places I visited, and visit some of the places I missed. Okay. Maybe I’d need more than a few more days.
Yay! All in all, sounds like a successful trip. An entry filled with interesting sites and intriguing photos. And, as compelling as the sites were, what did this art historian smile at the most? Wait for it. You guessed it. The turtles. (Wish I could have seen the fish). Have safe travels home, and I will see you on the next trip. Thanks for the ride.