It is no coincidence that the Capo District is diamond shaped. It has four monuments (one at each vertice) that you really shouldn’t miss if you are visiting. These four must see monuments are: the Massimo Theater, the Palace of Justice, the Cathedral, and the Quattro Canti.
The heart of this diamond shape beats with a rich and colorful market, which is one of the very best in the entire city.
- Total Time: One Day
- Starting At: 9:30 am
- Ending At: Early Evening Hours
- Expected Total Cost: 22€
- Total Travel Distance: 1.5 km
- Number of stops: 5
- Clothing: Comfortable walking shoes and clothing, no jewelry.
It won’t take long to get an idea about how deep the history flows through Palermo. A simple day of sightseeing through the Albergheria and Ballarò District could leave no doubts to the history here, but if you need more convincing for some reason, leave that to me. After this self-guided walking tour plan that I am going to suggest through the Capo District, you will be completely convinced.
While the main stops on the itinerary are the Massimo Theater, Capo marketplace and the Cathedral, there are several things that you are going to want to see apart from these icons.
Maybe it would be best to just get right to it.
Palermo Walking Tour: Capo District Highlights
There are several highlights for this walking tour through the Capo District:
Early Day: The morning hours should be spent with a guided tour (which costs a few dollars) through the second largest theater in all of Europe: Teatro Massimo. Once you have completed this impressive tour, you should then head straight to the Capo market. There is a genuine look at Sicilian culture here, offering a unique array of olives, spices, meats, fish and more. Inside of the marketplace, you will find an impressive church to check out: Immacolata Concezione.
Lunch: When you are ready for some lunch, Antonio Mafone is one of the best restaurants in all of Palermo, and its right in your vicinity.
Afternoon: This is the time to get in touch with your religious side, as the Cathedral is your next stop. Here you can also check out other important and relative monuments such as the Norman Palace, the diocesan museum and the Archbishop’s palace.
Night: While areas mentioned above are alive and cheerful during the daytime hours, the night brings with it a slew of petty crimes that makes it generally less and less safe with each passing year. Via dei Candelai has a modest offering of nightlife locations for you to have fun and unwind, but the threat of crime is ever present. Check out some of the best spots to spend your Palermo nights.
The Recommended Walking Itinerary Inside Capo
START: Teatro Massimo
- Location: Piazza Verdi
- Hours of Operation: 9:30 am – 6:00 pm every day
- Admission: €8 (€5 Reduced Price Ticket available)
- Average Total Time Spent: 1 hour
This is possibly the best place to begin your morning touring through the Capo District. Seeing the second largest theater in all of Europe isn’t something that you should pass over, and this five floor structure is one of the most iconic in the city. The best way to properly experience all that it has to offer is to see a play for yourself, but this might not fit into your plans.
For those of you that are fortunate enough to see one of the plays performed here, it might be a good idea for you to pay to get a tour beforehand to familiarize yourself with some key evocative spaces in the building. Areas of focus are: the Great Hall, the Pompeian Room, the Royal Box, the Hall of Emblems, and the Foyer.
Fans of the Godfather series have yet another reason to visit this iconic theater. Scenes in the film were shot here, such as Anthony Corleone’s role as Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana and Mary Corleone being mistakenly gunned down on the theater’s steps.
But the mafia’s presence on this place isn’t just isolated to the silver screen. A guided tour through the facility will show you that the entire place isn’t as well kept as it should be. At one point it was closed for renovations, citing that it would just be a short closing for upkeep. This went on for…wait for it… 23 years!
What started out as a plan to just close for a few months for general renovations and replacements to electrical systems, turned into being closed from 1974 to 1997. This would become a poignant metaphor for how mafia interests were bleeding Palermo dry for any way that an illegal profit could be seen.
While you might not see shootouts in the streets and big black bags with horse heads in them, the mafia is still very much an influence on Palermo. You can best see their handiwork when you look at the decaying walls of the most iconic monuments throughout the city.
STOP #2: Capo Street Market
- Location: Via Porta Carini
- Hours of Operation: 8:30 am – 6:00 pm every day
- Admission: Free
- Average Total Time Spent: 1 hour
Time for a change of pace with the Capo market. This is a boisterous outdoor marketplace with a lot to offer the traveler and tourist. It might be advisable not to carry all of your cash and valuables with you, as you might find yourself with empty pockets on the way back out.
Coming through the Porta Carini will get you into the market. This entrance is only a short distance (500 meters) from the Massimo Theater that you just left. Porta Carini is a rather unadorned door located at the main entrance of the market, and it has a unique history like the market itself. Originally erected back in 1310, this passageway would only have one renovation (in 1782) where it would be completely rebuilt.
This is one of the biggest trading places in the city for agri-food. You can get a great look at Palermo through walking through this marketplace and experiencing the sights, smells, shouts and shops.
This isn’t exactly the place where all of Sicily’s nobility and upper class tend to hang out and shop, but the underclass (middle class and below) have found a great haven for fresh foods here. At one time the entire area was inhabited by pirates, slave traders and mercenaries, so at least it isn’t quite like it used to be.
At times the entire market can feel kind of like a circus, without all of the lions and elephants mind you. Here you will see all kinds of wonderful sites: haphazard scooters weaving in and out of the crowds, stacked wooden crates that defy the basic laws of gravity, singing vendors (that are not at all like the angelic voices of radio), street food vendors shouting at the passersby to try their recipes, and even huge swordfish heads on stalls. It’s all there.
To make sure you aren’t out of the loop, there is also an illegal raffle that will happen, and you can identify this when you see a cart full of meat or fish and someone trying to sell tickets to win it.
Even though it was created several hundred years ago, there seemingly is little that has changed with this marketplace. It is still very much a labyrinth that leaves a sense of awe as well as an underlying feeling of a lawlessness.
For a great on the go snack that you won’t regret, grab some fresh bread from a vendor in the market. Then go into a cheese shop and salumeria (meat shop) and construct a sandwich to your liking with fresh ingredients.
There are many locations for a pre-dinner aperitif or your general lunch. What you don’t want to visit though, is an emergency room. Be careful walking around the fish stalls because they are very slippery. Many an unsuspecting individual has had to see what Palermo hospitals are like because they didn’t have this guide to warn them. See also the other historic Palermo Street Markets.
STOP #3: Immacolata Concezione Church
- Location: Via Porta Carini al Capo, 38
- Hours of Operation: 8 am – 11:30 am Sun – Fri and 8 am – 11:30/3:30 pm – 6pm Saturday
- Admission: 2€
- Average Time Spent: 20 min
You might not see this listed in all of the tourist guides for the Capo District, but it does have a unique wow factor that makes it something you shouldn’t pass up. This baroque style church is just a short 100 meters from the heart of the market place you just left.
You might miss the entrance to this impressive church, as it is nearly hidden among the vegetable and fruit crates. While the entrance is not intended to draw in lots of tourist traffic, once you have passed through the dull entrance you might be convinced you have entered Heaven itself. There is nothing but beauty and architectural marvels past the door, such as the impressive marble work with inlaid precious stones.
I wouldn’t even believe I’m stretching to say that this is one of the most beautiful and impressive churches in all of Palermo. It might be a bit blasphemous (and even dangerous) for me to say this, but I think it’s even more appealing than the Cathedral later on in this tour. Once you are inside, all of the noise from the bustling nearby market is gone, and you have reverent silence to appreciate this amazing sight.
There is one single nave decorated with inlaid marble and polychrome. The ceiling is equally as impressive, showcasing the fresco “The Triumph of Religious Orders” by Olivio Sozzi and a lot of gold filler. Other artists also helped in decorating as well, including Pietro Novelli, Carlo D’Aprile, Giuseppe Velasco and Giacomo Amato.
STOP #4: The Cathedral of Maria SS Assunta
- Location: Via Vittorio Emanuele
- Hours of Operation: 9 am – 5:30 pm on weekdays
7:30 am – 1:30pm and 4 pm – 7 pm on holidays
€7 (Treasury, Crypt, Tombs and Roof)
€3 (Tombs, Treasury and Crypt)
- Average Total Time Spent: 1 hour
The Cathedral is positioned in a place that you wouldn’t necessarily expect. After moving through some shoddy looking alleys and crumbling buildings, you come upon the lush garden with the magnificent statue of Saint Rosalia. Behind this is the famous Duomo.
Regardless of the architecture you might have just passed, the Cathedral is breathtaking from the outside. It is adorned with a great tree of life which is positioned by the side door. You might find (as many do) the interior to be a little underwhelming with its neoclassical style. While there are certainly prettier churches to be seen in Palermo, this is a good stop if you don’t have a lot of churches on your “must see” list.
The roof is what makes the Cathedral so impressive. After 100 steps of a spiraled, steep staircase you are rewarded with a truly remarkable view of Palermo. You can see almost anything from up there.
You have a handful of things you should check out inside, starting with the sundial that was created in 1801 by Giuseppe Piazzi. You should also check out the tombs of the Norman kings, the crowns of the Constance of Aragon (13th Century), and to those fans of mafia lore, Don Pino Puglisi is laid to rest here as well.
A Quick History of the Cathedral
It was commissioned in 1184 by a British Archbishop, Walter of the Mill (the advisor to William II of Sicily). This was always intended to rival the beauty of the Duomo of Monreale.
There were many phases to the contruction of the building throughout many architectural trends in various eras. For example, the eastern side (an original construction from the original project), looks very different from the south-west portion which is undeniably Gothic in its construction.
Another good example is the Catalan-Gothic porch which was built in 1426 by Antonio Gambara while the dome was made by Ferdinando Fuga in 1801. The Cathedral seems to be an endless work in progress.
STOP #5: Diocesan Museum
- Location: Via Matteo Bonello 2
- Hours of Operation:
Tues – Fri & Sun 9:30 am – 1:30 pm
Saturday 10 am – 6 pm
- Admission: €5 (Museum and Cathedral) €4.50 (Museum Admission Only)
Despite it being so close to the Cathedral, the museum seems to be left off a lot of itineraries. You really should check it out because it features artwork through the entire history of Christianity.
This museum is 15 rooms in total of the Archbishop’s Palace. There are many sights to see here, including religious art and the marble furnishings dating back to as early as the 15th century.
There are many 15th century frescoes on the ground floor, the most interesting of these likely being the Madonna delle Perle (1171) which was saved from the St. Niccolò Reale church. You will also be able to see works from the famous Pietro Novelli, a Sicilian painter in the 1600s.
So Palermo might be one of the largest cities in Europe, but yet again, I have helped you to navigate it. Once you have gone through this plan, I suggest you take another day checking out the Kalsa District. It is loaded up with many important monuments like what you found in Capo.