History of Palermo
Sicily history has been under powers such as the Romans, Spanish and more. The Sicilian history also had their own independence as the Greeks that later was known as the Kingdom of Sicily. The History of Palermo dates back to the Prehistoric Age.
Palermo’s History Is Long, But Never Dull
Palermo, with its stunningly beautiful harbor and towering mountains, has been a settled area since before history was written. Full of changing cultures and shifting allegiances, your visit to the city will be enhanced by an understanding of the eventful history of Palermo, which has sometimes been called The Most Conquered City in the World.
In the earliest days of Sicilian history, the island was inhabited by a race of people known as the Sicani. They may have arrived as early as 8,000 BC, and their art decorates the cave wall in Adduara just outside Palermo. They lived relatively untouched until 734 BC, when invaders came in from the sea.
The Sicani were overtaken by the Phoenicians, who sailed up from ancient Canaan to found a settlement that they called Ziz, which grew into what is now Palermo. However, the Phoenicians were unable to enjoy the rich harbor alone, thanks to their strong Greek neighbours.
Of course, the Greeks weren’t the only problem! As a major commerce stop, Palermo became embroiled in most of the wars that characterized Sicily history from the original Sicilian Wars onward. The Carthaginians colonized the area, but they were unable to hold it.
After the Punic Wars, Palermo became a Roman colony. It was a major trading outpost for them, and they built roads, temples, and baths that can still be seen today. Naturally, the beauty and commercial value of the city made it a target for the Germanic invaders, who snatched it out of Roman hands in the 5th century.
The Saracens were a North African people who swept through Sicily, renaming towns and building elegant mosques and libraries in accordance with their Muslim beliefs. They seized Palermo in 831 and renamed it Balharm before building it into a center of learning and culture designed to rival Cairo and Cordoba. It served as the capital of Arabian Sicily until 1072.
Naturally, no Muslim capital was safe from the Christian Norman crusaders! Conquered again in 1072 by the Normans, Palermo entered into a golden age architecturally as mosques were converted to churches and new castles were built. Many of the unique structures built in this era still stand as marvels, such as the San Giovanni degli Eremiti church, the Palatine Chapel, and the Zisa.
The next chapter in the history of Palermo saw the rise of the Kingdom of Sicily and Naples. In 1194, the Holy Roman Empire conquered the island, and the Palazzo dei Normanni became the regional palace.
Traded between English, Spanish, and Germanic kings, Palermo continued to grow in prosperity and beauty. It was one of the wealthiest states in all of Europe, and lavish buildings testified to its riches. Baroque architecture dominated the development, and these buildings have been well maintained for modern visitors to explore.
United with the Kingdom of Naples in 1734, Palermo lost a bit of its former importance. Further conquests and challenges peaked in 1848, with a major revolutionary upheaval. Things didn’t settle again until 1860, when the Kingdom of Italy annexed the island and reinvested in development. The Via della Liberta was born, along with many Art Deco and Liberty Style buildings such as the Grand Hotel Villa Igeia.
Palermo tried to keep quiet in the next page of Sicilian history, escaping much of the Fascist period without note. However, in 1943 it was invaded and bombed heavily by the Allied Forces, and the aftermath of that attack still scars the cityscape even today. The ensuing unrest led to the growth of an underground economy and legends about the Cosa Nostra and local smugglers thrill visitors.
Fortunately, like all of Sicily, history in Palermo is starting to repeat. Funds from Italy’s entrance into the EU and rising developmental forces are rebuilding the city and driving further growth. Many feel that a new golden age is just around the corner, making now the perfect time to visit a city on its way to being reborn.