Once known as the stronghold of the Mafia, Palermo, the capital of Sicily, has gradually improved its image and the joie de vivre of its inhabitants has turned it into one of the most lively cities in Italy.
The monumental Palermo Cathedral is located on the edge of the Piazza Cathedrale. Throughout the centuries, it has been a place for rendezvous, celebrations and justice. Following the city?s conquest by the Saracens, an ancient cathedral on this site was transformed into a Friday mosque and was later used for Christian ceremonies.
In 1072, the Normans conquered the island. They were so captivated by this ?paradise on earth? that they were careful to preserve it. They admired its oriental splendor and Arabian-Norman architecture but when the kings of Aragon attained power, the golden age of Palermo came to an end.
The Castello Della Zisa is the largest building of Arabian design in Palermo and in former times, it was a residence situated within a regal park that was used for the royal sport of hawking.
In a mountain area close to Palermo is the picturesque town of Monreale, a townscape that for more than 800 years has been dominated by a single building. Monreale Cathedral was built due to a struggle for power between the Bishop of Palermo and the Norman King, William The Second.
The Sicilian metropolis of Palermo has been both feared and loved but it most assuredly remains ?a flower within a golden shell?.