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Palermo Guide Italy

History and culture

Getting there
History and culture

Churches and Museums
Historical buildings and monuments
Places and charm

Food and drink
Hotels and lodgings

La Dolce Vita

A special day
Trip outside the city

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Palermo Italy
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Palermo Guide in PDF format

History and culture

Palermo’s origins date back to the period between the 8th and the 6th century B.C., when the Phoenicians colonized the area that was previously inhabited by Sicans, Cretans and the Elimi.
After being contested for a long period between Rome and Carthage during the Punic wars, the city of Paleopolis was placed under Roman rule (254 B.C.).
After several attacks by various barbaric populations, the city then became a part of the Byzantine Empire, which governed it for about three centuries, until 831.

The Arabs took over from the Byzantines and under their rule, Palermo enjoyed a period of splendor and prosperity. Art and economics were developed immensely, the first thanks to the influence of Arab culture and the latter through intense trading with the main Italian ports. Palermo increased its prestige by building mosques, luxurious palaces and wonderful gardens.

The Arabs ruled until 1072 when the Normans succeeded in gaining possession of the city after a long siege, and thus began a new era during which the population spread out throughout the island. Under Norman rule, Palermo was allowed a fair amount of autonomy, while in the city, palaces and monuments that were the symbols of this crossroads of culture, such as the Cappella Palatina (Palatine Chapel) and the Cathedral - Duomo in Monreale were built.

Palermo passed into the hands of the Swabians and Frederick II after the Normans: in this period, art and literature were developed even further, culminating in the setting up of the Sicilian School of Poets.

Under the French king, Charles of Anjou, Palermo lost a great deal of its autonomy, but the people rebelled, and started up the war of the Sicilian Vespers (1282) that continued for twenty years and which was intended to throw out the French from the island.

Spanish dominion (1400 - 1700) saw the beginning of a peaceful period for this much contested city that had been in the hands of various countries over the centuries. Palermo was once again the capital and the town’s buildings and monuments were renewed. Various religious orders, which were increasingly powerful, set up a large number of churches and convents. This was a period of pomp and opulence for the clergy and the aristocracy, but was also one of poverty and pestilence for the people, whose rebellions were often put down without the sparing of blood.
After a brief interval under the Sabaudo family Dynasty (1713 - 1718) and then under the Austrians (1718 - 1735), Palermo and Sicily were once again returned to the Spanish, and became the Autonomous State of the Kingdom of Naples.
When the Bourbon family decreed that the autonomy granted should be repealed, the whole of Sicily rose up (1820 and 1848) and finally in 1860, when Garibaldi and the thousand landed at Marsala, Palermo won its freedom, and then annexed itself to the Kingdom of Italy in 1870.

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