Palermo and Piazza delle Vergogne – by Raffaella Saba

After reaching Porta Nuova, I start walking back towards Piazza Vigliena. I leave the cathedral behind me and on the way there,  I find San Salvatore’s church. You could not pay me enough to visit this church when I first saw it few years ago. Now, after going a massive renovation, the façade is so inviting you just can’t pass by without talking a look at the inside. There’s very little left of the original as it was mostly rebuild after the bombings during WWII, but it’s really worth a visit.

I really want to go back to Quattro Canti though, as somebody just told me there is a famous square with a beautiful fountain in the middle of it. You can find it on the map under the name of Piazza Pretoria but everybody knows it as “Piazza delle Vergogne”, “Square of the Embarrassments” that is.

The Fontana Pretoria I came here to see, was commissioned by Don Pedro di Toledo and it was built by Tuscan sculptors between 1552 and 1555. Don Pedro refused to pay for it since it did not like the finished product and did not want it in the middle of his garden; therefore the fountain was acquired by the senate of Palermo and found its definite home in Piazza Pretoria. It is made of white marble with several allegorical figures representing the city of Palermo. The most recognizable ones are maybe the four rivers: Oreto, Papireto, Gabriele e Maredolce.

There are different theories on how the name came about: some may say it’s because of the nudity of the people and the presence of strange animals, others will say it’s because of the proximity of a cloistered monastery, “convento della Martorana” (whose official name is obviously a different one) and the outrage of the nuns caused by nudity of men and women. There are several churches that overlooked the square: the baroque Chiesa di Santa Caterina, Chiesa di Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio with his colorful mosaics, and Chiesa di San Cataldo with its  characteristic red domes.

Another theory is the one about Don Pedro’s shameless refusal to pay for the fountain, but the best is the subtle implication that the fountain sits right in front of City Hall and everybody knows how many things the past administration have done that they should be ashamed of. This is why for the people of Palermo and the many tourists that come to know its story, fontana Pretoria will always be the Square of Embarrassment.


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