Steeped in history, the center of Palermo in Sicily offers sun, sea and spectacular historic mansions


Named “the kingdom of the sun” by the Norman invaders in the 12th century, the Sicilian capital of Palermo is one of the sunniest places in Europe, with over 2,500 hours of sunshine per year. Located where Europe ends and Africa begins, it is on the northwest coast of Sicily, facing east towards the sea, and is backed by a plain of citrus groves known as the name of Golden Shell. In the distance, Mount Pellegrino rises 606 meters above the city, the highest peak in a spectacular mountain range.

Founded by the Phoenicians in 734 BC. J.-C., Palermo was colonized by more than half a dozen different civilizations. For thousands of years, it has absorbed the traces of these various influences in its architecture, art and gastronomy. Unified with Italy in 1861, it has its own eclectic character.

“It’s a melting pot of different cultures and styles,” said Diletta Giorgolo, residential sector manager at Italy Sotheby’s International Realty. “Palermo is a truly decadent yet elegant and vibrant city, steeped in culture, great food, historic palaces and splendid architecture. From Roman, to Arabic, to Norman, to French and to Spanish, each historical period has left its mark on the layout of the city. Its historic center is considered one of the most unique and beautiful in Europe.

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Boundaries

“There is no particular area in the city center where we can draw a boundary,” said Alessandro Calì, licensing partner of Engel & Völkers Palermo, adding that Palermo has one of the largest historic centers of Europe, covering 2.4 million square meters. Piazza Vigliena, colloquially known as Quattro Canti, marks the center of the city’s four ancient quarters. The medieval city walls defined the city limits as the Piazza Verdi to the north, the sea to the east, the Corso Tukory to the south and the Porta Nuova to the west.


Price scale

For historic garden apartments and villas in central Palermo, “prices range from €2,000 (US$2,170) per square meter to €4,500 per square meter,” Calì said. “It depends on whether the property has been renovated or not and other characteristics such as location, view, whether it has a terrace and so on.”

Historic apartments and townhouses vary in size from 70 square meters to 600 square meters. “We have a lot of buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries – the Spanish period – which means nobles who liked wide open spaces and large rooms,” he said. Historic villas are typically between 400 and 500 square meters, with gardens of up to 3,000 square meters, he said, adding that prices for newly refurbished high-end historic properties start at around €500,000 and amount to up to 5 million euros.

The average price per square meter is low compared to other historic city centers in Europe. “In Palermo the prices are very low but for a turnkey apartment there is a supplement for renovation costs to pay,” Ms Giorgolo said. “Prices are always great compared to other art cities in Italy.”

This luxury four-bedroom apartment in the heart of historic Palermo is currently asking around $4 million.

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Housing stock

Most buyers looking for high-end properties in the center of Palermo favor historic buildings. “I cannot specify a particular type – apartment, mansion or townhouse – that our clients are looking for. They are looking for something unique, something historic,” Mr. Calì said. A common request is a property with original frescoes, an element that makes historic properties in Palermo particularly exceptional.

Affluent buyers often seek properties that combine the best of antiquity and modernity, looking for “historic properties with contemporary touches, such as original interior design mixed with contemporary fittings in kitchens and bathrooms. bathrooms,” Ms Giorgolo said. “Owning one of Palermo’s aristocratic palaces – mostly buildings from the 17th to 18th centuries – is like owning a piece of history. It’s a status symbol. »

The areas most sought after by wealthy buyers are around the famous Via Alloro and the Kalsa district, she said. Part of the appeal of central Palermo is the diversity of its architecture and the wide range of properties available. “There are the apartments on the noble floors, with high ceilings and frescoes, or entire townhouses or palaces or mansions with large parks,” she said. “Luxury amenities are found in modern villas and apartments, but the real value is not the luxury amenities but the architectural and historical features.”

Exterior of a residential building from the 1700s, in the heart of the historic center of Palermo.

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What makes it unique

The city’s eclectic architecture is what makes it truly unique, juxtaposing renovated palaces with picturesque ruins. Steeped in history, the center of Palermo is full of stunning palaces and squares, churches and convents. “It’s over 2,700 years old and it’s appealing to people who like cultural melting pots because there are so many different cultures,” Calì said. “One of the unique characteristics of Palermo is the coexistence of perfectly renovated buildings with others that still need to be, so you can find a very luxurious building at the same time as its neighbor is destroyed.”

Palermo’s historic center features a mix of Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture, an abundance of fascinating historic sites, top-notch restaurants and bustling markets. Lively and thriving, it’s also a cultural hotspot, with theaters and concert halls, museums and art galleries, and a beautiful botanical garden.

“It is still mainly an open-air museum where you can discover magnificent hidden treasures while strolling through its various corners,” Ms. Giorgolo said. “Shopping in the modern part of the city, sunbathing and swimming in the sea at Mondello or simply visiting the most beautiful jewel of Palermo, which is the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Cathedral of Monreale, one of the greatest extant examples of Norman architecture.”

The historic center of Palermo features a mix of Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture.

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Luxury amenities

The city has good health and education infrastructure and many luxury amenities. “The high-end shops are in the Via della Libertà district. As for private schools, there is an international school and the city has many top restaurants,” Ms. Giorgolo said. CEI International School Palermo offers instruction in English and Italian and is the only school in southern Italy to be accredited by the International Baccalaureate Organization, offering co-ed courses for students aged 2 to 18. The Thomas More Scuola Paritaria also offers bilingual English and Italian education from primary through high school.

Famous for its fine dining, world-class restaurants in central Palermo include the Michelin-starred Gagini, which is pioneering a slow food renaissance in Cala, Palermo’s marina district. Housed in the former workshop of Antonio Gagini, a 15th-century sculptor, it serves inventive contemporary versions of Italian classics, created by an Italian-Brazilian chef. Other notable restaurants include Bebop, which serves dishes inspired by Sicilian traditions, paired exclusively with local wines, and L’Ottava Nota, which specializes in fresh local seafood prepared in a contemporary Sicilian style.

The city also offers an abundance of leisure activities. “We have over 300 days of sunshine a day, so you can play golf, tennis or windsurf nine or ten months a year,” Calì said. “We also have the opera house, Teatro Massimo, which is the second largest in Europe, with a very attractive seasonal opera calendar, as well as ballet and symphony orchestras.”


Who lives here

Palermo’s center has a diverse set of residents, including locals, northern Italians attracted by the city’s mild climate, and international shoppers. “Fashion lovers, art connoisseurs and people from the financial world have shown a lot of interest in Palermo,” Ms Giorgolo said, adding that most foreign buyers came from the UK, France and Italy. North and South America. The city is also popular with buyers from Germany and Austria, Calì said.

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Notable residents

Many famous Italian personalities hail from Palermo, including Italian President Sergio Mattarella. Other notable names include film director Luca Guadagnino and Massimo Valsecchi, a well-known art collector and scholar who bought the historic Palazzo Butera in 2016 and turned it into a museum and cultural center. Soccer player Salvatore Schillaci and tennis player Marco Cecchinato are also from Palermo, Calì said.

Outlook

“As in most cities in Italy, the pandemic has led an increasing number of foreign buyers to choose Palermo as their second and first residence,” Ms. Giorgolo said. “It is difficult in these unpredictable times to give a correct price forecast, but the growing interest in Palermo and Sicily can have a positive impact on values. One example is the Baroque town of Noto in eastern Sicily, which has seen rising property prices over the past 10 years as international investors bought properties.

Mr. Calì said that although the pandemic has not had a significant impact on prices in the center of Palermo, he expects an increase in the coming years. “According to recent market reports, we will see a price increase of up to 20% over the next three or four years,” he said.

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Edward K. Thompson