There are many major sights to see in the Kalsa district, and this self-guided walking tour through the region will help you pick out the major monuments like: the Pretoria Fountain, the Chiaramonte Steri and the Martorana Church. Given all there is to see here, you will likely spend most of your trip in this district.
- Length: One Day
- Starting: 9 am
- Ending: Early Evening
- Expected Out of Pocket Expense: €16
- Total Distance: 2.3km
- Number of stops: 6
- Recommended Attire: Comfortable clothes, walking shoes, no jewelry
If you have already gone on the self-guided tour of Albergheria and Capo districts and you still haven’t gotten enough, this new guide is sure to give you another needed dose of the area’s culture. Throughout this plan, you will see an expertly crafted path through the iconic area of Palermo where Arab emirs once resided, leaving the entire district with a distinct flair uncommon to any of the others.
While this might have been greatly influenced by the Arabs that used to live there, you shouldn’t see anyone walking around with a camel in tow. But if you take a few moments to appreciate the architecture, it isn’t hard to still recognize their presence on the district.
But before we get far off topic, let’s focus on what you need to see in this one day tour of Kalsa.
Quick Overview of Your Palermo Walking Tour: Kalsa District
Morning: Start your day off with a hearty lunch, because you have some incredible sites to visit before you get to lunchtime. In the morning, you are going to see a Palazzo Abatellis collection, the Gancia Church, Spasimo Church and the uniqueness of the Magione Church.
Lunch: You should definitely have a great lunch at Antica Focacceria San Francesco. This has been mentioned so often in tourist guides of the region that you are likely to see more tourists than locals here, but the food is well worth your time.
Afternoon: You have a few more important sites to visit after you’ve had your fill at lunch. You will be checking out Piazza Marina and Palazzo Chiaramonte Steri (where you can see Vucciria by Guttuso and Museo dell’inquisizione). The tour will cap off with a true highlight, the Pretoria fountain.
Night: Check out the Piazza Rivoluzione for an authentic Italian aperitif and check out authentic high rated restaurants in that area.
The Free Walking Tour In Palermo: Kalsa District
START: Palazzo Abatellis – Galleria Regionale Siciliana
- Location: Via Alloro, 4
- Hours of Operation:
9 am – 6:30 pm Tuesday – Friday
9 am – 1 pm Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays
- Admission: €8 (available €4 reduced ticket)
What better way to start your morning than with a little dose of quality art? While I might be a proud citizen of Palermo, we typically can’t compete with the likes of Rome, Venice and Florence when it comes to places featuring quality artwork. Abatellis Palace might offer the closest that Palermo will ever come to competing with some of the more art focused cities in Northern Italy. A historian of art (not me, of course) might be able to label all of the works found here and why they are significant. I personally find myself drawn to a handful of them, which I’ll share with you now.
I would think that the most famous of all of the works here would be the Virgin Annunciate by Antonello da Messina. While it might not be monstrous in size, true skill knows no size. It is one of the most fascinating creations in the history of art. This woman with her piercing gaze, her suspended hand, and her veil which frames her face will leave you at a loss for words. Which is a very strange occurrence for me.
If you are not completely floored by the awe-striking nature of the Virgin Annunciate, another woman here will surely get you there. Check out the bust of Eleonora of Aragon. This is a depiction of the niece of Federico d’Aragona, former king of Sicily. This bust would spend much of its life atop the tomb of Eleonora (who died in 1405) in the Abbey of Santa Maria del Bosco Calatamauro.
While I’ve got you thinking about tombs and death, there’s a nice little canvas homage to death you shouldn’t pass by. It’s called The Triumph of Death, a painting done in the 15th century by an unknown painter. The image displays how death comes for everyone, regardless of someone’s wealth or social status.
In another room you are going to see works of art from Antoon Van Dyck, a baroque artist who lived in Palermo in 1624, a time of pestilence for the region. He would be known for painting Palermo’s patroness, Saint Rosalia.
There are few words that can describe the palace without you seeing it for yourself. This huge Catalan-Gothic structure was designed by Matteo Carnilvari at the end of the 1400s. While it started out as a residence for Francesco Patello or Abatellis, it would then become a home for Dominican sisters coming in from Saint Caterina monastery. During World War II, this structure would be massively damaged by a bomb. It was not rebuilt to the way it is today until 1954.
STOP #2: Santa Maria degli Angeli Church (Gancia)
- Location: Via Alloro 27
- Hours of Operation: Monday – Saturday 9:30 am – 1:30 pm
Sundays and Holidays 10:30 am – 1:00 pm
- Admission: Contribution not lower than €2.50
Once you have left Palazzo Abatellis, prepare your brain for another great wonder that lies just over 100 steps away, the Santa Maria degli Angeli Church.
This structure was originally erected in 1490, and served as a shelter for the sick and needy (known then as Gancia). Now, it is one of the most impressive churches in the city, boasting the oldest pipe organ (from 1620).
This distinct Catalan-Gothic design is evident in the arches and squared and bare ashlars. There are valuable works of art stored in the numerous side chapels within its walls, such as the Pietro Novelli and Serpotta. Inside, there is also a chapel that is owned by a prominent Spanish royal family, which has been appropriately dedicated to the Lady of Guadalupe.
You might not consider Sicilians famous for much other than the mafia, but we are also well known for our devout beliefs. Ironically enough, there are a lot of similarities between the mafia and religion within Sicily. For example, nearly every one of the greatest Godfathers in history were super religious.
Perhaps one of the most revered images to all of the people of Palermo happens to be in the church here, the Child Jesus. This has been the subject of many miraculous events, not to mention the image itself is remarkably beautiful.
Most Sicilians believe that God himself uses this very image to manifest His glory and to grant graces for His people.
You will find an interesting spot outside on Via Alloro Street. There will be a plaque commemorating two Patriots Fillipo Patti and Gaspare Bivona who escaped the Bourbons through an elaborate plan. They went into the convent and pretended to be dead, then dug a hole to escape and succeeded through the assistance of some women who started a skirmish to draw attention from the awaiting Bourbons.
Stop #3: Santa Maria dello Spasimo Church
- Location: Piazza Carlo Maria Ventimiglia, 13
- Admission: Free
Another stop on your walking itinerary needs to be the Spasimo church. This is only a short 300 meters away from La Gancia and is well worth your time to check out.
There is an almost unsettling feeling you get when you see that the church has no roof. Once you have come through the courtyard, you will enter into an open-air nave, which is a result of a vault collapse in the 18th century that has never been repaired in all this time. These are the kind of ruins that you will see when you look back over romantic paintings of this period.
You might not stand in awe of everything that you see, but it is well worth a visit (especially since it costs you nothing to do so). Take a little bit of time to educate yourself on the history of this church so that you can see it and appreciate it through understanding eyes. No one wants to be the person looking like a fool, after all.
By now you must want to take a little breather from all of the deep cultural offerings of the area. If that is the case, stop by the Villa Giulia. Here you can immerse yourself around a magnificent botanical garden and take a few moments to relax.
Stop #4: Magione Church
- Location: Via Magione 44
Hours of Operation: 9 am – 7pm Monday – Saturday
9 am – 1 pm Sundays and Holidays
- Admission: Free
This next must-see will be one of the cutest churches that you will see in all of Palermo. The Magione is a nice little corner that pulls you away from the hustle and bustle of the area and gives you an immediate sense of peace. As fascinating as you will likely find this church, you will immediately notice that it is all but devoid of decoration (which in itself sets it apart from other older churches in the region).
There is quite a long story about why this church is significant and why it is worth seeing, but a lot of that might put you to sleep. To avoid this, let’s do the short version. The style of its design is Arab-Norman and it was built back in 1191. While it has been damaged over wars, it has always been rebuilt to the exact original specifications.
This is an overwhelmingly popular spot for locals wishing to get married. If you yourself are a fan of weddings, you can likely very easily blend in and get a look at some tear-inducing wedding vows from young couples committing themselves to one another.
Stop #5: Chiaramonte Steri Palace
- Location: Piazza Marina 61
- Hours of Operation: 10 am – 6 pm every day
- Admission: €5 (Just Palace Admission)
€7.50 (Palace and Inquisition Museum Admission)
At the top of the diamond shaped Kalsa Quarter, you will find the Marina Square. Despite its dark history for executions during the Inquisition, Sicilians still consider this to be the most beautiful square in the entire city.
When you overcome the history involving severed heads, you will find the real gem at the heart of this square: the charming Palazzo Chiaramonte Steri. Inside, you will find one of the most famous paintings in 20th century Italy, La Vucciria by Guttuso.
This is a massive and impressive structure that was built back in the 1300s to be a residence for the Count of Modica. It has been owned and operated by numerous other facilities since then, but today it is the rectorate.
The Sala Magna is one of the major artistic draws to the Palace. Cecco, Simone and Pelligrino Darena (from Palermo) painted this gorgeous ceiling over a three year span starting in 1377.
Recently in 2013, a museum for the Inquisition was inaugurated. There is a guided visit through former cells of that time. You will see artwork (graffiti) of the inmates and get a sense of the cruelty that they were forced to endure during this time, as well as the history of what made this period in Palermo so influential.
La Vucciria by Renato Guttoso
This painting is one of the most famous Italian works of art from the 20th century. It is said to describe the feeling that the painter felt when he was passing through the Vucciria Market as a hungry child.
It is a still life painting, but it has quite a lot of life to it. In fact, many of the faces that can be seen in the massive painting are people that the painter knew very well. It is believed that the swordfish seller in the painting is meant to be a self-portrait of the painter.
Stop #6: Pretoria Fountain (Fountain of Shame)
- Location: Piazza Pretoria
You might be deterred if I told you that there were a multitude of nude men and women waiting for you at the next stop on your walking journey through Kalsa. The nude people referred to here are the statues adorning the massive fountain, and not a red light district you have unfortunately stumbled into.
This was originally constructed by an Italian Sculptor for a villa in Tuscany owned by Don Luigi de Toledo. It was purchased by Palermo in 1573 to outshine the beauty of the Orione fountain in Messina.
It is also known as the Fountain of Shame to many Sicilians because of the nude sculptures all over it. Its placement in front of a prominent church caused a lot of grief for the nuns, who thought the entire ornate fountain was a complete shame.
It isn’t by chance that the Palermo Municipality seat overlooks the square. Prepare yourself as you approach the statues.
This fountain has been known to pull people into a trance, that has them circling the structure two and even three times, completely enthralled and oblivious to their circling. With each pass, you might become more and more convinced at how lifelike they actually look, and see new details that you didn’t see the last time around. The sculpting is so smooth, you want to touch it to make sure it isn’t a real person.
This concludes your walking day trip through the Kalsa District. If you have already taken part in the other two walking tours I have provided (Capo and Albergheria Districts), there is just one left that I encourage you to try out. Go from this plan right to the walking tour for the Vucciria neighborhood.