Sicily’s capital and largest city, Palermo sits on the northern coast of Sicily in its generous bay. Palermo first bloomed under Arab rule, becoming 9th and 10th centuries among the great intellectual centers of the Western World, after with Islamic Baghdad and Cordoba. After Norman conquest new splendor arrived in the form of the Norman Palace, Monreale Cathedrale, and Palatine Chapel which exemplify a unique style Arab-Norman art and architecture that attracts visitors from around the world and has earned UNESCO World Heritage designation. Its final flowering came with the matchless court of Frederick II (13th century), where arguably both the Italian language and the Renaissance were born.
Palermo made a name for itself in the Spanish and Bourbon periods as a place aristocratic elegance and stasis. The nineteenth century brought grand opera, the Mafia, and decadence. Lately, the city of nearly a million has become increasingly less Mafia-controlled since the 1980s thanks to a series of crusading judges and mayors, and the proud citizens are enjoying a the longest period of prosperity and optimism since the unification of Italy in 1860 (forever to be considered a disaster by Sicilians).
Palermo is to be visited today for the Arabo-Norman churches, baroque palaces, colorful markets, notable museums, numerous world-class restaurants, and, just outside the city, Monreale Cathedral.