Claudia continued our tour along Via Vittorio Emmanuele, past a local landmark (Argento Vincenzo) where intricate marionettes are made. The Sicilian puppet (pupi) theatre tradition has been recognised by UNESCO, being inscribed on the ‘Representative list of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity’. The range of puppets is impressive and we were delighted when Claudia introduced us to the elderly maker of these fantastic creations. He slowly made his way from his workbench to the shop entrance, large puppet in hand. I was quite surprised when he let us have a play with it! I was tempted to bring one home, however they are too fragile to cart around Italy in a suitcase….
Claudia points out this well known shop
Here we try to make the marionette move
Along the way I also resisted the temptation to buy one of the ubiquitious lemon juicers you see in all the tourist areas (I did cave in and buy one later though):
Next stop was the Chiesa del Gesu, (The Church of the Gesu), a stunning example of the Baroque, where ornate marble relief work is the main feature, along with the beautiful roof painted in rainbow of colours:
The marble reliefs in the Gesu
The beautiful roof in the Gesu
It is a breathtaking Church
In contrast to the quiet Gesu, the market we walked through offered a loud and somewhat chaotic scene, where sellers were hawking their wares, sometimes reverting to English when tourists like us walked by. The colour, the vibrancy, the sheer clamour of this place was really exciting – we were able to finally taste prickly pears, and were given fresh pistachios as Claudia is obviously a favourite with the local vendors …
Here is a sample of what we saw – fresh produce, meat and fish, in a rainbow mish-mash of colours – oh and we stopped to try the highly recommended cold coffee (Caffé freddo) – delish, but we were not so keen on the idea of that Silician delicacy, spleen sandwiches!
Prickly pears are quite delicious
I think these are tomatoes?!
The inevitable peppers
As we headed off toward the Quattro Canti, Claudia took the opportunity to detour into a side street where the vendors specialised in making kitchen equipment:
pots and pans
Utensil for handling prickly pears
The Jewish Quarter was close by so we wandered through, continuing our walk until we came upon the Renaissance Fontana Pretoria, the so-called Fountain of Shame – thus named because of the naked statues which encircle it. The fountain was originally made in Florence then bought from its noble owner by the Palermo Senate and transported in pieces to be relocated in its current position in front of the City Hall.
The C14th Praetorian Palace (now the Town hall
The C17th Church of Saint Joseph dei Teatini viewed from the stairs of Santa Caterina Church
In front of the Fountain of shame
Fontana Pretoria from the stairs of Santa Caterina church
A pedestrian only street took us along to the Quattro Canti. The street was lined with pink and white stalls, set up in preparation for an upcoming icecream festival:
Pedestrian only shopping street
At last we reached the famed Quattro Canti, which was smaller and more grimy than I expected – but spectacular nonetheless. It is at the intersection of the Via Vittoria Emmanuele and the Via Maqueda. The curved buildings on each of the four corners have three levels. On the bottom level the sculptures in the fountains represent the four seasons; on the middle level are four Spanish kings, and the figures on the top level represent Patron Saints. It was rather a thrill to stand in the middle of the piazza (Piazza Vigliena) viewing the facades, each adorned with marble statues.
Charles V (Spring) on the South Facade
Philip II (summer) on the West Facade
Philip IV (Autumn) on the North Facade
Philip III (Winter) on the East Facade with Sant’Agata above
Philip IV on the Autumn, North Facade with Olivia di Palermo
Claudia completed the tour with a walk to the C19th Teatro Massimo, which we had seen from the bus the day before. It is a magnificent structure on the Piazza Verdi. Built in the neoclassical style, it is the largest opera house in Italy :
Teatro Massimo comes into view
The majestic theatre
A police presence in the grounds
Tours of the theatre are available, but we decided to forgo this option in favour of lunch in a shady square – in the company of local pussy cats….
Next post: Monreale and the last day in Sicily