Despite its nasty reputation as a city of crime and mafia, Palermo doesn’t have this atmosphere of danger or insecurity. If you arrive by the sea you will immediately be involved in the chaos of the city and get familiar with it. As all big cities, Palermo is of course subject to micro crimes, especially pick pocketing. A good rule is to look after your belongings (especially cameras and technologic apparels) and avoid a “tourist attitude”, something which will immediately draw the attention of potential criminals.
It is true that pick pocketing and thefts are quite common, but at the same time it is not unusual to meet the local people sitting in front of their houses with the doors left open. There are so many things to see in Palermo, and the city is one of those deserving an accurate visit, with slow rhythms and frequent stops in one of the numerous bars and pastry shops, as eating in this city is a real pleasure.
The old town reflects the typical medieval plant, in which it is very easy to orientate. Palermo has a very good bus service and an underground, but the old town can be easily discovered on foot.
A good way to begin your visit is by taking reference to the ancient division of the city in its 4 big boroughs, divided by Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda, with big palaces and many shops overlooking them. The intersection point of these two boulevards is called Quattro Canti, a circular square in baroque style also called the “Sun theatre”, as here the sun is always in sight. The square is characterised by the empty facades of the palaces situated on each of the 4 corners. In front of each facade stands a fountain, while the niches of the façade hide statues representing the four seasons, the Spanish kings and the patron saints of each corresponding borough.
The 4 boroughs are: the Vucciria, east of via Maqueda and north of Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the Kalsa, on the same side of via Maqueda but south of Corso Vittorio, the Albergheria, which is located west of via Maqueda, and the Capo, in the northwest part of the old town.
A few steps from the square lies Piazza Bellini with the two opposite churches of San Cataldo, and the Norman church of the Martorana, with baroque motifs. The church and the bell tower are very beautiful: the walls and columns of the central dome are decorated with Byzantine mosaics in golden background, which reflect the sun rays penetrating from the windows, something which creates a real show. The church is also known for the ancient pastry tradition, according to which the convent was the birthplace of the martoran fruit, the sculptures made of almond paste which were produced by the nuns of the convent until the first half of the 20th century.
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