Palermo is the beating heart of Sicily, a heart that holds within all the mesmerizing beauty and stark oppositions typical of this land: it is rich in art and beautiful to the point of pain, yet rough around the edges and uncompromising. Palermo, just like Sicily all, shows you unafraid the opulence of its past, side by side with the more precarious nature of its present. Palermo is beautiful, even where it needs some TLC, because it has always been a city, just like the whole region of Sicily, with a multifaceted soul: Greek and Roman, Arab and Norman, Spanish and Italian, each leaving behind a mark which contributed to create that unique thing Sicilian identity is.
Finally, Palermo will get some official recognition for all its charm: the city has been chosen as Italy’s Capital of Culture for the year 2018. The announcement was given at the end of the month of January by the Minister for Cultural Heritage and Art, Dario Franceschini, who declared to Italian daily “La Repubblica” that “the competition becomes better and better each year and being one of the ten finalists is already a huge achievement. Palermo has always been – and still is – a capital and this title will only valorize the city as much as it truly deserves.”
The positive choice came three years after Palermo’s candidacy to become European Capital of Culture failed to be accepted. Little memory of that blow still stands, especially after Palermo was also chosen, at the beginning of 2017 as Italy’s Youth Capital for the year.
Palermo’s mayor, Leoluca Orlando, congratulated all finalists – Alghero, Aquileia, Comacchio, Ercolano, Montebelluna, Recanati, Settimo Torinese, Trento ed Erice – highlighting how his city’s victory is not only due to its undeniable cultural importance in the history of Italy, but also to the heart of its people, who makes it “the city of welcoming and acceptance, certainly a trait not to be neglected - he concluded- in times like these,” as cited in “Il Giornale di Sicilia”. Ugo Forello, candidate to this Spring’s municipal elections, declared he hopes this recognition may become the initial step to bring the city back at the cultural centre of the whole Mediterranean area.
Palermo, Piazza Pretoria, also known as the Square of Shame, Piazza della vergogna — Photo by lachris77
The evident relevance of Palermo in the heritage, art and history of Italy, recently recognized also at international level with the introduction of its Arab-Norman art and architecture in the UNESCO’s World Heritage in 2015, has certainly played a huge part in the choice, but it is far from being the only one. Certainly, the city’s current touristic boom, in part caused by the sizeable decline in booking for Northern Africa, considered unsafe at the moment, has also contributed.
Un taxi pittoresco decorato come un carretto siciliano. Photo by Alesinya
In many a way, though, it’s Palermo’s current effort to support the arts and culture that may have tipped the scale in its favor: since 2015, the city is home to the “Festival delle Letterature Migranti”, the festival of migrant literatures, whose 2018 edition will be enriched and strengthened in contents and organization. Always in 2018, Palermo will host famous itinerant modern art biennial “Manifesta”, after Saint Petersburg and Zurich.
The Opera dei Pupi is one of the characteristic cultural traditions of Sicily. Photo by gandolfos
Thanks to the financial incentives given to the competition’s winner, Palermo will be able to work on projects of cultural importance, such as the regeneration of its waterfront area, La Kalsa. Other initiatives, albeit not financed directly by the grant, have had their deadlines changed to be ready for the beginning of 2018. Among them, the restoration of Palazzo Butera, carried out by famous art collectors Francesca and Massimo Valsecchi, which will open on time to be enjoyed by all those visiting the city next year, and the reopening of the former Convent of Saint Francis, which will become a centre for Arab and Mediterranean cultures.
Il duomo di Monreale a Palermo. Photo by boggy22
Andrea Cusumano, the city’s arts and culture councilor, underlined how Palermo, with all its idiosyncrasies and variety of cultures, symbolizes perfectly “every individual’s right to be different and unique, all while maintaining a very distinct, unchangeable identity.”
Beautiful words, those of Cusumano, mirror to a reality anyone who has been to Palermo has witnessed. The city truly manages to be one and many at once, on so many levels. Palermo is a refined continental baroque city and a spices-scented northern African kasba; it is an opulent and sleepy Norman princess, covered in precious gold and stones, and a veiled temptress à la “Thousand and One Nights,” exotic and sinuous. Palermo has the warm, buttery voice of a soprano performing at its beloved Teatro Massimo, but finds also the gritty tones of Vuccirìa’s vendors within the depth of its throat.
Simply put and simply stated, Palermo is one of Italy’s most beautiful and most culturally significant cities, it is a great place to be. Palermo is a city that deserves to be appreciated: may 2018 bring it, then, the recognition and love it deserves.