Fri. Feb 21st, 2020

Start your Sicily sightseeing, from the mythical Villa Igieia, in the hills of Palermo!

15 min read
Located on the northern coast of the Italian island of Sicily, get to know its massively Arab-Norman inspired capital of Palermo and its architectural jewels, like the Cathedral and its many Palazzi, all witnesses of a rich history! Collectively, they are an outstanding example of a socio-cultural syncretism between Western, Islamic, and Byzantine cultures. This interchange gave rise to an architectural and artistic expression based on novel concepts of space, structure, and decoration that spread widely throughout the Mediterranean region. By Alex Plato

The city of Palermo, in Sicily, was founded in 734 BC, by the Phoenicians, by the time named as Ziz (meaning flower). Palermo then became a possession of Carthage, before becoming part of the Roman Republic, the Roman Empire and eventually part of the Byzantine Empire, for more than 1000 years. The Greeks named it the Panormos city, meaning “complete port”. Then, from 831 to 1072 the city was under the Arab rule, during the Emirate of Sicily. This huge mix of cultures brought this Italian island an incomparable heritage to visit all the year!
 
 
The history of the Grand Hotel Villa Igiea, now acquired by the Rocco Forte Hotels group, is a masterpiece of Sicilian Art Nouveau, is fully part to this good rich old times and directly linked to the encounter between 2 famous Palermo-born men: Ignazio Florio Jr and Ernesto Basile. Decorated by Ettore De Maria Bergler and furnished in a wonderful vegetal and floral style by Vittorio Ducrot, this real Palermo palazzo jewel is today considered as one of the most luxurious hotels in the region and in renovation until its revival on June 1st, 2020!
 
Indeed, this Rocco Forte Hotels chain is lead by a famous family hotel group, led by Sir Rocco Forte and his sister Olga Polizzi, proudly bet on this historical palace, overlooking the Gulf of Palermo (photo credits: Villa Igiea). 
 
For your information, originally built as a private villa, the influential Florio family asked the Italian Art Nouveau architect Ernesto Basile to restore the property and transform it into a luxury hotel. Once considered the most famous retreat in Sicily, the Villa Igiea was a symbol of elegance and hospitality that hosted many artists, such as the Hollywood elite and royalty characters passing by. 
 
Built in 1900 at the peak of the Belle Epoque era, a period of economic prosperity dating from the end of the Franco-Prussian war until the beginning of the First World War, the hotel recalls a magnificent castle overlooking the sea.
 
The design director of the Rocco Forte Hotels group, Olga Polizzi, works hard in collaboration with one of the most prominent names in the design world, Paolo Moschino, acting with Nicholas Haslam, who would oversee the meticulous restoration of the edifice, in order to preserve its exquisite historical features, while respecting the emblematic brand style of the Rocco Forte family… (photo credits: Alex Plato). 
 
For instance, the famous Basile room, the frescoed bar and the large mirrored ballroom will regain their natural beauty, as long as the 104 spacious rooms and suites, helped with a charming view on the sea or the surrounding gardens… A global update to reflect, at the end, a contemporary and classic Sicilian oasis
The Chef Fulvio Pierangelini, a creative gastronomy designer, for Rocco Forte group, is charged to imagine the future innovative menus, featuring fresh local specialties, to be featured as typical as possible of this Italian side.
Once ready, you would probably have the chance to dine in the main restaurant, a large mirrored lounge where the Florio dynasty used to entertain the royal family, or on the romantic terrace, bordering the swimming pool, for a more aquatic setting.
 
Furthermore, overlooking the gardens, the vaulted bar, decorated with frescoes, was once an emblematic meeting place for locals and travelers throughout the ages, also famous for its Sicilian aperitif parties. 
 
The impressive space available for meetings and events, hosted sumptuous weddings, party conventions, conferences would be carefully rejuvenated too, to accommodate events of all sizes. 
 
Located on the seashore, among the gardens’ vegetation, would settles the spa. Offering a Mediterranean journey, full of senses, framed by Sicilian majolica tiles, typical colors of the Tyrrhenian Sea and comfortable furniture, the treatments would be organized by Irene Forte, using her care products, inspired by the Sicilian nature. 
 
A true urban resort, the Villa Igiea is easily accessible from the Palermo International Airport, or even seaside, for only 10 minutes by car from the center of Palermo, where visitors may admire the overwhelming beauty of the city’s baroque churches, the royal Norman palace or simply stroll along the lively bucolic street markets.
Those unmissable sights, such as Monreale, Erice and Cefalu, are located just a short car drive away, while in summer a boat would be available to bring their guests to the beautiful Mondello Beach
In summary, the Villa Igiea would be the seventh property of the Rocco Forte family in Italy and the second one in Sicily, thus perfectly complementing with the Verdura Resort, located along the amazing Sicilian coast, only 90 minutes by car from Palermo.
 
Some last words commented, on the opening of this brand new Villa Igiea, from the new owner, Sir Rocco Forte: “It is an honor to be able to undertake the restoration project of the Villa Igiea back to its natural splendor. This is an emblematic hotel, with the Florio family at its origin, and I am delighted that my family has its place in the wonderful history of the building. The future guests should take the chance to discover the best of Sicily by visiting Palermo, a wonderful city that lived an extraordinary renaissance moment, then maybe go to the Verdura Resort, in order to complete any relaxation journey.”
 
You would be undoubtedly charmed by this resort, ideally located to visit some Palermo main tourist spots, also thanks to a private free shuttle, starting from the hotel), to easily reach the city center or rent a car, for getting further…
 
Online bookings can now be made, from the period starting from June 1st, 2020, with a departure price of 520 € (including breakfast), to book directly on the official website. For any other information, send a mail
Villa Igiea / Salita Belmonte, 43, 90142 Palermo PA, Italy / Phone: +39 06 32888 590


For example, you could have a stop in one of the lidos (private beaches) located in Mondello, where the sea front lies between two cliffs called Mount Gallo and Mount Pellegrino (Photos credits: Alex Plato). 

The town was originally a small fishing village situated on a marshland, but at the end of the 19th century, it grew into a massive tourist destination. Nonetheless, this balneary resort offers a consequent amount of Liberty styled villas to admire, bordering the seafront promenade, making the town as one of the most famous Art Nouveau gems, in Italy.

The beach and streets of this former fishing village are lined with street food stalls (mostly visible in summer season) and also gourmet restaurants. If you would switch from farniente, the nearby Capo Gallo Nature Reserve proposes hiking trails and offers panoramic views towards the sea.

A little further away and more wild, in Scopello, a small and characteristic maritime village, located in the Trapani Province, a hamlet of Castellammare del Golfo. This surrounding area contains many little pretty farms, long sand beaches and the Natural Reserve dello Zingaro, situated only at a few kilometers from there. 
Also a few steps away from Palermo, the Monreale village, located on the slopes of the Monte Caputo, overlooking the valley and offering a panoramic view on the city, from the mythical Piazza Indipendenza.
This small village is the home of one of the jewels of the most successful Norman architectures of that time, the Cathedral of Monreale, of course not to be missed… 
Back to Palermo, you would be not far from the mosticoes (especially in summer) flying inside the Botanical Garden, a key inspiration for the curatorial project of the Manifesta 12 cultural event, settled back through many emblematic sites in Palermo along the year 2018… 
 
Indeed, this garden was an ideal site for this purpose, since it’s been a city institution for decades… Planted in 1789 and inaugurated in December 1795, it was officially incorporated into the Accademia dei Regi Studi of Palermo, when the school was founded in 1806, at the time when the first Chair of Botany was instaured. 
Logically, the garden has muchly grown since then, thanks to the Palermo Botanical School, which helped it to gain recognition, expand, and enrich its collections.
Organized into well-ordered and scientifically identified proper collections, arranged according to aesthetic and landscape criteria, the Botanical Garden, major entity of the University of Palermo is broadly divided into various sections: the Linnaeus’ Zone, Engler’s Zone, the Succulent Garden, the Mediterranean hillside, the Medicinal and the Aromatic Plants Section, the Cycadetum, the Palmetum, and the Experimental, Biogeographical and Useful Plants Section.
 
Moreover, the large circular pool (Aquarium) is of particular interest, with its twenty-four sections of varying depths and a surface area of approximately 500 sqm.
 

In this garden, you may also have admired this water art installation, emanating from Manifesta 12, an European Nomadic Biennial project, hosted in a different city every two years. Thus, this twelfth edition of this major international art event, took place in 2018 in Palermo, through many picturesque sites, giving an opportunity to highlight emerging artists, thought-provoking ideas, new artworks especially commissioned for the event, and creative experiences in dialogue with spectacular locations of each host city.

For your information, Manifesta was founded in Amsterdam in the early 1990s as a European biennial of contemporary art, striving to enhance artistic and cultural exchanges after the end of Cold War. In the next decade, Manifesta would focus on evolving from an art exhibition into an interdisciplinary platform for social change, introducing holistic urban research and legacy-oriented programming as the core of its model.

Manifesta is still run by its original founder, the Dutch historian Hedwig Fijen, and managed by a permanent team of international specialists. Each new edition is started up and fundraised individually. Currently, Manifesta is working from its offices in Amsterdam, with an upcoming office in Marseille for Manifesta 13, opening in this French city in 2020.

Orto botanico di Palermo (Botanic Garden), Via Lincoln, 2, 90133 Palermo PA, Italy / Open everyday from 9am to 5pm.


After this bowl of nature, the Palermo downtown opens its doors to you! From the popular area of Ballaro to Patrimonio quarters in Palermo… 
 
From this greek inspired temple, close to the famous glacier Gnni Ilardo, to the Arab-Norman styled Palatine Chapel, many architectures are visible in the Palermo monuments, spread in a 6 235 hectares property… Proof of the many invasions that knew the city, among those, the more emblematic would undoubtedly the Norman mark left by their governance, including the Palazzo dei Normanni (the Royal Palace) and the Duomo di Palermo (the Palermo Cathedral, pictured below). 
Each monument illustrates important aspects of the multicultural Western, Islamic and Byzantine syncretism that characterized the Norman kingdom of Sicily, during the 12th century. The innovative evolution of architectural forms, such as structures (and its fine materials), highlight their artistic, decorative, and iconographic treatments… most conspicuously the rich and extensive tesserae mosaics, pavements in opus sectile style, marquetry, sculptural elements, paintings, and fittings, celebrate the fruitful coexistence of people of different origins.
 
This ensemble bears witness to a particular political and cultural condition characterized by the fruitful coexistence of a multi-cultural melting pot (Muslim, Byzantine, Latin, Jewish, Lombard, and French). This interchange generated a conscious and unique combination of elements derived from the architectural and artistic techniques of those mixed traditions.
 
This new style contributed to the architectural developments spread through the Tyrrhenian side of the southern Italy and in the other hand, also widely throughout the Mediterranean zone.
 
A great example of this mixed contribution would be the Porta Nuova, a monumental gateway erected in 1565 in tribute to the conquest of Tunis by KingCharles V and his visit to the capital of the kingdom of Sicily, although it was rebuilt a century later. This monument represented the entrance to the Cassaro de Corso Calatafimi and is located next to the Palazzo dei Normanni, the royal palace of Palermo. Its charm rests on its beautiful Renaissance loggia, topped with a sloping roof surmounted by an imperial eagle. It marks the starting point of the illustrious Via Vittorio Emanuele, a long straight avenue, closed at the other end by another gateway, the Porta Felice.
 
Another great example would be the Chiesa San Cataldo, from the bell tower you would have a perfect view towards the roofs of Palermo. Founded in the 12th century, this edifice holds a cubic shape, where its serrated merlons and its “eunuch bonnets” cupolas, sign one of the most accomplished examples of the Arab-Norman architecture style.
 

The interior layout is very minimalist and is divided into three naves, separated by ancient columns from other monuments. The church is entirely paved with polychrome marble mosaics, dating from the Norman period. 

Indeed, the Norman history in this part of Italy started at the beginning of the 11th century with Rainulf Drengot, an adventurer and mercenary who became, around 1030, the Count of Aversa in the Campania region. He followed, around 1035, Guillaume Bras-de-Fer, the elder of the Hauteville Brothers, who would leave their mark on the area.

In 1059, one of the Guillaume Bras-de-Fer‘s brothers, Robert Guiscard, made a pact with Pope Nicholas II, in which he formally declared his vassal, obtaining in exchange the title of Duke of Apulia, Calabria and of Sicily, to which we must also add the current Basilicata, one part of Campania and the nowadays Molise. The Normans very quickly succeeded in supplanting the local Lombard nobility, in eliminating the Byzantine presence from Southern Italy, back in 1071, and then devoted themselves to conquering Sicily, then in the hands of the Muslims. Sicily was gradually conquered between 1060 to 1091, by Robert Guiscard and his brother Roger, who would have been the first Norman count of the island.

On an other architectural style, you couldn’t miss one of the splendeurs of the city, the impressive Teatro Garibaldi and its brother the Teatro Massimo!
 
An opera house ideally located on the Piazza Verdi, renowned for its perfect acoustics, it’s even considered as the biggest in Italy, and one of the largest in Europe (the third in size after the French Opéra National de Paris and the Austrian Hof-Opernhaus in Vienna). This edifice was dedicated in tribute to King Victor Emanuel II and proposes a series of great shows on this planning.
 
The statue of Giuseppe Verdi watches over this temple dedicated to lyrical music. Thus, it was built by Giovanni BatistaBasile and his son, around 1875. Its imposing triangular pediment carried by six columns still takes up the motif of ancient temples, like many other local monuments. But the new Liberty style is not to be outdone since it is found in those two small wrought iron kiosks, located in front of the theater. 
 
On top of that, the Teatro Garibaldi is where the Grand Hotel Villa Igiea shuttle stops you down downtown.

Among those pictures, you may recognize the massive Palazzo Delle Poste, a building especially designed by the rationalist and later fascist government architect Angiolo Mazzoni, in the early 1920s.

Its structure’s construction started in 1929 and the edifice was inaugurated in 1934 with the Italian government’s communications minister Umberto Puppini in attendance. Indeed, the style of the building is typical of the fascist period and falls under the rubric of Italian Rationalism. It covers an area of 5100 m², which is symmetrically structured around two side courtyards. The structure is rendered in reinforced concrete and clad in gray marble from Mount Billiemi. The front colonnade is formed by 10 columns each 30 meters high. Also of note is the large elliptical staircase with a diameter greater than 9 meters.

The interiors are done in the style of Futurism, one of the few examples an interior created as such from the time. All the details were attended to by Angiolo Mazzoni such as the copper-clad doors, the specially designed window handles, the lighting and the choice of marble and stone all from Italy except the black stone of the staircase, as he desired.

A few steps away, the divine and luminous Pretoria Fountain, sculpted by Francesco Camilliani, arrived in the Sicily’s capital in 1574, after having enhanced a beautiful garden in Florence for a few years, thereafter the ensemble was transported to the island divided into pieces, 644 of them to be exact, and was put back together in its current location.  
 
Once upon a time, this square, situated in front of the City Hall, also called Palermo‘s Palazzo Pretorio (Praetor Palace), was as well known as the “Square of Shame“, due to the presence of naked statues around this spectacular fountain at its center… Those characters are easily approachable from those many white stairs, you may admire in and around those photographs.
 
By the way, the Palermo Senate had purchased it from the original owner, who needed to solve his financial problems and pay his debts.
 
The Palermo citizens ever looked at those half-dressed statues and identified them like their corrupt officials, operating by the time in the city hall… but in reality, they were meant to represent mythological figures such as the gods on the Mount Olympus, and Florence’s rivers, including the Mugnone, immortalized by Boccaccio in his “Decameron”. From there, you would be straight to reach the somptuous Chiesa San Giuseppe dei Teatini.
 
This church was built at the beginning of the 17th century by the architect Giacomo Besio, a Genoese member of the TheatinesOrder. It has a majestic tall and thin sculpted facade, with its centre niche hosting a statue of San Gaetano, founder of this religious community. Another striking feature is the large dome with a blue and yellow majolica covering. The tambour is decorated with double columns, and was designed by Giuseppe Mariani, although the belfry tower was designed by Paolo Amato. A good halt before maybe striding the shopping alleys, full of surprises!
Also, a visit of the immaculate Oratory of Saint Lawrence, a Baroque oratory of Palermo, is a must-see. This edifice is located near the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, in the Kalsa quarter, in the historic centre of Palermo. The oratory was founded in the late 16th century.
 
Then, discover the Palazzo Forcella De Seta, a significant example of 19th century eclectic architecture in Palermo. Originally this building was a casina a mare (seaside house) of the Bonanno family, princes of Cattolica, who were in charge of securing the Vega bastion, part of the city walls. Where you could admire the mosaics and the pile of salt, still a Manifesta installation! After the visit, you would have deserved a nice ice-cream at the famous glacier Gnni Ilardo close to the seafront!
Then, get the feeling of the splendid Palazzo Conte Frederico, whose oldest part is a 12th century Arab-Norman tower. Called Coffin Tower, it was placed on the walls to defend the city and it was also the entrance of the Busuemi harbor, by tapping one of the inlets which was then part of the city. Guided tours of the palace are taken care of by the Count Alessandro Federico himself or his family, who still live in the palace…
 
Some steps further, the Palazzo Ajutamicristo which is also a traditional Palermo palace, constructed between 1495 and 1501 by Guglielmo Ajutamicristo, Baron of Misilmeri and Calatafimi. Originally a merchant, Guglielmo Ajutamicristo made his fortune while trading Sicilian cheese and cereals.
 
Thus, this palazzo was built to celebrate the family’s newly acquired wealth. Here’s below a video sample there, directed Lydia Ourahmane, still for the Manifesta project.
At last, admire the red flag left by the Tutto artwork, realized by Matilde Cassani, installed in 2018, for Manifesta 12, in the Palazzo Costantino. A mixed media installation, performance in this bad shape palazzo, located in the northeastern corner of the Quattro Canti.

This palace was constructed by Giuseppe Merendino in the second half of the eighteenth century on a former seventeenth-century structure. Following the purchase of the Palace by the Marquis Giuseppe Costantino, the edifice underwent an important renovation designed by the Venetian architect Venanzio Marvuglia in a style that combined traditional eighteenth-century elements with neoclassic features.

The main rooms of the Palace were decorated with stuccos, frescos by Gioacchino Martorana, some precious Louis XV and Louis XVI style furniture, made of carved and gold wood, and majolica eighteenth-century floors, like the one depicting La Nascita di Venere. During the Second World War, both German and allied soldiers occupied the palace, damaging its decorations and furniture. In the 1960s, part of the palace was given to La Rinascente society, who was using the adjacent Palazzo Napoli as well. The other frescos are by masters of the time such as Giuseppe Velasco, Elia Interguglielmi and Gaspare Fumagalli.

After having been abandoned for more than a half century, between 2001 and 2003, the last heirs of the Palace sold the entire property to the Bilotti Ruggi d’Aragona family. In the early 2000s the facade of the Palace on via Maqueda was partly restored, whereas the construction site inside the palace has been abandoned for years. Today the palace still belongs to Roberto Bilotti Ruggi d’Aragona.

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