Palermo between mountains and water – by Raffaella Saba

You have a panoramic view of the city even before the ferry enters the port.

On the right side, there’s Monte Pellegrino, a sacred place for the people in Palermo. It is here that the remains of Santa Rosalia, the city patron and protector. On the left side, an uneven coast and the shape of a plateau far away.

“What’s the name of that of it?” I ask, knowing that for Sardinian people anything above one hundred meters is a mountain!

“Monte Cuccio” they say.

I will later find out that’s not Monte Cuccio, which is exactly at the opposite side.

Soon I learn is better not to ask to many questions. This is Palermo, a city built during the Phoenician era that occupies several square kilometers of the Conca d’Oro lowland and where clementine and orange trees fight everyday to survive in a sea of cement.

I’m attracted by the waterside on my left. “That’s the old city,” somebody says.

“That’s the Kalsa church, then you can see the Mura delle Cattive, La Cala, the old port and the Porta dei cornuti”. (The word CORNUTO in Italian refers to a man or a woman, whose partner is cheating on them and literally means “horned”).

I will get acquainted soon to their way of living, just like the two faces of a coin: two shimmering and opposite sides. Asking for directions to get to Piazza Vigliena , Piazza Pretoria or Chiesa del Gesu is quite an adventure. Do not be surprised if people do not know, even when they are standing right in front of it. It’s not because they are impolite, or not willing to help.  They just do not know their way around.

Palermo people don’t know the Quattro Canti or Piazza della Vergogna or Casa Professa. But there’s a time for everything and everything has a history. Today is the time for Porta Felice, better known as Porta dei Cornuti (Door of the cuckolds). In 1581, the viceroy Marcantonio Colonna commissioned the construction of the door to bring prestige to the waterside promenade, the present Foro Italico. It’s original name was a tribute to the viceroy’s wife, donna Felice Orsini. The noblewomen used to stroll alongside the waterfront on their carriages during spring and summer season, trying to find some relieve from the heat or after a night spent with their lovers. The legend says that the working-class people, outraged by this behavior, named the door build “PORTA DEI CORNUTI” because it was built without a roof in such a way that the betrayed husband and their ‘horns’ could get through without any inconvenience.

On the right side of Porta Felice there’s a beautiful elevated promenade with beautiful stairways. It was built in 1823 and it’s called “Passeggiata delle Cattive”, from the Latin word “captive” which literally means “prisoner of grief”. This was the hang out of the widows, their amusement park, away from everyday life and with a beautiful view of the Mediterranean waters.

What a pity!!


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