After several months away from Palermo, it has taken me several more to start to feel the rhythm of the place again.         

At first glance, Corso Vittorio Emmanuele  doesn’t look at all like a street of palaces.  For the most part, it is rather unprepossessing, none too clean, and usually noisy and full of traffic.  But first glances are usually unreliable; and nowhere more so than in Palermo.   

This is Palermo’s oldest street.  It can be seen on the earliest maps of the city, running in a straight east-west line from Porta Nuova, the decorative city gate beside the Norman Palace, to Porta Felice the city gate by the sea.   Even today you sometimes hear it referred to by its original name, ‘the Cassaro’, from the Arab word al-Csar meaning ‘the street that leads to the castle’ .        

A careful walk along Corso Vittorio Emmanuele, from Porta Nuova to Porta Felice, will reveal more than forty palaces originally built by Sicily’s nobility, some as early as the 16th century, most in the 18th century.  Some are still lived in by the owners, some have been converted to other uses, many are in need of repair and restoration.  Adriana Chirco, a leading Palermo architect, author, and lecturer in the History of Art, has observed that, in many cases, it wouldn’t take a great deal to restore these palaces to their ancient splendour, and that to do so would add lustre to the city and help  conserve its architectural and cultural past.    

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