Palermo has managed to preserve all marvels of the civilizations that reigned the city. Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Swabians, Angevin, and Spanish have left their marks on the art of each neighborhood. The districts have a distinct character with its traditions, old markets, and even dialects.
The city retains the urban planning of medieval periods, and all Mandamenti (districts) maintain the feel of long ago. Following are the main neighborhoods in Palermo.
Castellammare – La Loggia
The area of Castellammare, or Loggia, is situated in the historical center of the city and is one of the oldest quarters. The renowned neighborhood houses the most famous outdoor markets, the Vucciria. It is bounded by Via Maqueda, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, Via Cavour, and Via Crispi streets. Its name derives from the presence of the “Castello a Mare” (Castle in the Sea), an ancient fortress that defended the gate of the city’s port during Arab rule. It was demolished by dynamite in 1922 due to an operation aimed at enlarging and reorganizing the port.
The district of Vecchio Centro (Old Town) has its central point in Quattro Canti. It hosts some of the most important monuments of Palermo, such as Pretoria Fountain and Palazzo Senatorio. Despite the many defacements, the appearance of the area is still the same as that of the Baroque period.
Here, you find the Cathedral and the oldest street of Palermo, the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. In the ancient times, it was known as Cassaro from the Arabic Al-Qasr, which means castle. In the late sixteenth century, the road took the name of Via Toledo in honor of the viceroy Garcia de Toledo, one of the principal architects of the road restoration. The street is 1,5 Km long and comprises a concentration of urban architecture: aristocratic palaces, churches, monasteries, convents, and hotels.
Albergaria – Palazzo Reale
The district of Albergaria, or Albergheria, is one of the richest in history. Since the Phoenicians, it was the administrative center and political representation. Not by chance, the neighborhood comprises the Royal Palace, the dwelling place of Sicilian rulers. Underground of the quarter ran the river, Kemonia, also known as River of Bad Weather.
The district hosts the ancient market of Ballarò, the most active in the regional capital. The area was degraded and abandoned for a long time. Only in the last decade it has been rediscovered and redeveloped. The latest restorations have given birth to new historical treasures that are evidence of a crossroads of diverse cultures.
The district of Zisa is situated near the historic center of the city, in the heart of Palermo. The entire area was a holiday resort and a hunting area for kings. It is the home of the Palazzo Della Zisa, or Castello Della Zisa. The palace – conceived as a summer residence of the kings – is one of the best examples of the fusion of Norman art and architecture and the Arab decorations and engineering.
Currently, in addition to the Palace, you will find the art-nouveau, Villino Florio, built in 1899 by Ernesto Basile, commissioned by the wealthy Florio family.
In 2005, a new park was opened in front of the Zisa with a series of fountains that remind of Arabian art.
The district of Marina was the pride of Palermo in the past centuries. The old city overlooked the northeast, enjoying the view and the sea’s breeze. In the last century, Libertà quarter has overshadowed La Marina, but it still has a significant role in the Palermitans’ life, as it holds the largest green areas of the city, Foro Italico and Villa Giulia.
Arabs founded the district of Kalsa in 937, and it was the residence of the Emir. In later centuries, they worked up many buildings around the quarter, creating a dense road network that stays on so far. The name Kalsa derives from Arabic and means “pure” or “the chosen one.” The neighborhood hosts the folk Lattarini market. Its name comes from “Suq el Attarin”, which means “spices market” in Arabic. In fact, the area was talked-about for the sale of spices and drugs.
In recent years, the district has undergone several changes and improvements to save it from the state of degradation into which it had fallen.
“In the 60’s only in Lattarini you could find the newcomer Jeans, which were purchased for the modest sum of 200₤ (about 0.12$) by the workers who could afford this luxury.”
The district Seracaldio, also known as Monte di Pietà, was founded by the Arabs. It is also known as “Capo” because of the presence of the famous market that takes place within it and still maintains its original features. The Mercato del Capo is one of the most visited in the city. Besides, there are two of the major museums in Palermo, which are the Museo Regionale “Antonio Salinas” and the Museo Diocesano.
Mezzomonreale is a dense quarter located to the west of the Old Town. In ancient times, it hosted many necropoleis (cemeteries), and in the Norman age, a royal park existed until the 16th century. The main street of the quarter is Corso Calatafimi, which connects Palermo to Monreale; that is from where the district’s name comes.
In the last decades, Mafia (contracts rigged) has built many shabby buildings that have declined the area.
Originally, the Partanna-Mondello was an agricultural village connected to the port of Mondello. The name of the village comes from the princes of Partanna and from the Gulf of Mondello, which has become the primary beach destination of Palermitans and tourists visiting Palermo. In the southwest, there is the small fraction of Addaura that has the most ancient history in Palermo, dating back to the Paleolithic.
The district of Libertà has developed around a central axis, the Via Della Libertà, near the old town. The road was built in 1860, and it hosted many wonderful villas of nineteenth-century architecture. All this construction was demolished to benefit the Mafia bid rigging. Today, the quarter is considered the city center of Palermo.
The district is located adjacent to the old town, and it is named after the Teatro Politeama. The nineteenth-century architecture characterized the quarter of Politeama; in fact, the area was developed outside the walls in a time when there was no longer the need to defend the city. In the beginning, nobility settled in the villas of the Palermo. Subsequently middle-class homes replaced the villas, distributed according to the nineteenth-century rules, in regular square blocks. The nineteenth-century chessboard is still visible in the plant area, as well as the old route of the station that no longer exists.
The neighborhood of Montepellegrino is in an area at the foot of Mount Pellegrino, very close to the sea and between the historic boroughs of Sampolo and Acquasanta. The development of the district increased, particularly since 1897, when the Cantieri Navali was built. That turned the area into a “working-class neighborhood,” as there are a greater number of industrial employees living here. Since 1946, the quarter hosted the Fiera del Mediterraneo (Fair).