Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Getting Around Palermo

Public transport zooming by in Palermo...
I was fortunate on my trip to Palermo to have a friend who lived there who had a car, and we drove around a lot, especially to places outside the city and between attractions at opposite ends of the city. Most tourists and visitors to the city will most certainly want to avoid driving in Palermo because the traffic is...daunting.

Being from Boston, I used to think that Boston traffic was the worst, but never was I more wrong on my first visit to Palermo.  The narrow streets, the roads, and the congestion are the perfect recipe for chaos.  My advice for travelers: walk or public transport.

Palermo is a very walkable city, and you will probably have more luck getting around on foot.  If you are thinking of going to the city, equip yourself with some comfortable walking shoes that are supportive and can take a good beating.  The second thing that you will need is a very good map.  I found that the free map from the tourist information booths around the city were the best and very durable (I wasn't able to find a decent map of Palermo before my arrival).  If you're staying at a hotel, I'm sure that the hotel has something similar or possibly the same map for visitors.  It's easy to get lost in the city so be sure to have a map with you until you get your bearings.

Walking along the streets can be jarring on your first day - the influx of people, the honking of horns, the shrills of brakes and tires...all of these things can wear on your nerves.  After a day or two, you get used to it. Crossing the street can be an adventure.  Don't jaywalk.  Use crosswalks whenever possible.  Don't cross against the light.  And when you do cross the street, don't hesitate, remain firm and get to the other side as quickly as possible.

Public transport can be useful, but it's difficult to master the time tables and schedules, and good luck figuring out where any bus goes.  Most guidebooks do not advise making use of public transport, but you may have to use them, especially in the summer months, if you want to visit some of the more popular attractions outside of the city center (for example, the catacombs).  The larger coach buses (pullman as they are called in Italian) are great at getting from one metropolitan area to another and many of these pullman make stops along the way, too.  The pullman are operated by private companies and are relatively inexpensive.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Giacomo Serpotta and Palermo

Oratorio di San Lorenzo
image released to the public domain
The Sicilian sculptor, Giacomo Serpotta, is one of Sicily's most gifted artisans, known for his sculptures of stucco and hails from Palermo. Stucco was a difficult medium to work in because it dried fast (and even more so in the heat of the island) and left little room for error.

Serpotta is also believed to have come up with the idea of adding marble dust to his stucco recipe -- this gives the stucco a more lustrous appearance than it might normally have. The ingredients in his recipe are somewhat of a mystery today, and no other artist really ever matched Serpotta's skill in stucco.

Serpotta is believed to have never left Sicily (although some conjecture that he was trained in Rome since much of his work resembles that of the stucco master, Antonio Raggi), and he learned much about the artistic currents of Italy by working with other artists on the island as well as studying engravings and drawings. Serpotta's work can be found all over Palermo as well as in Alcamo in the Province of Trapani (some also believe that Serpotta worked in Agrigento, but this, too, is up for debate).

Donald Garstang wrote a very comprehensive work about the artistic career of Giacomo Serpotta and the stucco artists of the Sicilian Baroque. A translation of this work exists in Italian, having been recently published in 2006 (actually, the Italian version has slightly better photographic reproductions). The English edition is available in numerous libraries around the world but is now out of print.

Adriana Chirco has a chapter devoted to Serpotta in her book, Palermo, la città ritrovata : itinerari entro le mura. This chapter features a walking tour of Serpotta's works throughout the city as well as information on the artist, too.

This web site has a lot of useful information and photos on the artist.