Piazza S. Andrea is a tiny irregularly shaped area, no more than 30 metres long and 15 wide, reached via a narrow laneway from one of the city’s main squares, Piazza S. Domenico.  Despite its size, and its proximity to the large Church of S. Domenico, this little square once contained three churches. It  is still dominated by the elegant, recently restored baroque facade of one of them.  It’s also home to a rather chic restaurant, generally considered to be one of Palermo’s best.* 

Interesting as its past may be, however – and evocative and pleasurable as summer dining in the shadow of the church undoubtedly can be – this little square has seen better days.  Now, at least in the daytime, it’s chaotic and noisy, a jumble of erratically parked cars, building equipment, and rubbish skips.  And any spare space is likely to be taken over by local boys kicking a football – with little regard for passers-by.  

On a recent Sunday morning, however, the square was surprisingly bare.  Everything had been removed – all cars were gone, there were no rubbish skips in sight, and, most surprising of all, the paving stones appeared to have been swept clean.  In the centre, a huge wooden bonfire was being prepared – mostly, from what I could see, by a group of young boys.   It was 18 March, the day before the Feast of S. Giuseppe.    

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Most visitors to Palermo come to see the rich remains of the city’s past – and they’re right to do so.  Palermo was once one of the grandest cities in Europe – the centre of what John Julius Norwich refers to as “that flashing, endlessly-faceted jewel that was the culture of Norman Sicily” – and many of its treasures, including some of its finest, are still here to be seen.  Now, they perhaps gain even greater lustre being seen in the context of a modern city to which time has been far from kind.  But for all its problems – or maybe partly because of them – modern Palermo too has its riches.  They are less apparent to the casual visitor, and certainly not likely to attract large numbers of tourists, but nevertheless they are well worth discovering.  There’s a rich vein of creativity running through the old city, finding expression in various small theatres and musical venues.  It’s one of the things that makes the city such an intriguing and rewarding place to spend time in.                             

One of these theatres is Teatro delle Balate, a small experimental theatre,  established in 2007 in a slightly edgy part of the old city, directly opposite the decorative façade of a 17th century church, S. Annunziata delle Balate.  Finding the theatre proved to be something of an adventure; attending a  performance there, a real discovery.    

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