Sicily-day three

Or half day in Asia, half in Cefalu 🙂

As I wrote in my last travel diary, today held a surprise for my husband who just loves everything Asian.

Every time when I prepare for our journeys I look through every known and not so known attractions and sites in the place. That way I found our first destination for the day – the Chinese Palace. It was restored in 2013 after decades of neglect and is in the middle of a beautiful oak forest. It is located in Mondello, about 2 km away from our apartment so the visit was a must. That’s why:

In a city full of historical palaces in its famous Arab-Norman style, an Asian palace at the foot of Pellegrino Mountain seems to be totally incoherent with the rest of the city’s treasures. We’re talking about the Chinese Palace of Palermo, a building which dates back to the end of XVIII century wanted by king Ferdinando IV di Borbone as his new dwelling. The king, escaping from Naples after the French Revolution’s consequences, entrusted the building to one the most famous Italian architects of those ages: Venanzio Marvuglia.

Ferdinando I, King of the Two Sicilies, cuts a poor figure when it comes to monarchs: vain, lackadaisical, much preferring to hunt than to rule. Even his otherwise loyal wife, Maria Carolina, a sister of Marie Antoinette’s, held a low opinion of her husband. But Maria Carolina’s ineffectual spouse possessed an admirable aesthetic sense.

No, Chinese people never invaded or dominated Palermo, however, Asian culture started to be very interesting for European aristocrats since the XVII century.  The palace is a copy of a villa near Naples that Ferdinando and Maria Carolina had been merrily decorating à la chinois in 1798, when an ill-considered war against France sent the couple and their children into unhappy exile.

The Chinese Palace is divided on 4 floor: a mezzanine, a first floor, a second floor and the basement. Notable as well the palace’s magnificent garden. The central body of the building, in fact, is featured by a typical Chinese roof shaped like a pagoda, the Asian columns characterize the entrance and the entire building is full of oriental architectonic elements. 

In the mezzanine there are many rooms, like the one where the king used to meet other lords and monarchs from all over the world. The room’s roof is finely decorated with some everyday’s scenes played by Chinese characters, but also with many sentences wrote in different languages as a “welcome” to all the guests from other countries.

In this floor we can also find  the dining room, the king’s bedroom and a gambling hall, all decorated, of course, in Asian style.

The first floor was dedicated to ladies and knights’ rooms but, surely, the most beautiful floor is the second one, with queen’s bedroom and other rooms featured by different styles. The first one is the Turkish Room, furnished by triangular sofas, and decorations like stylized suns and half-moons.

Then, there is the Ercolana Room, featured by an empire style and the queen’s room. This one has a neoclassical style and it is decorated also with some little frescoes by queen Maria Carolina. 

Here’s a little more photos from the palace:

The garden is also really beautiful, but not so impressive compared to the palace.

As you can see the place is more than fascinating and the free entrance was a pleasant surprise! I’m used to paying huge amount of money to see such beauty so I advice you not to miss the chance to see the palace if you are in Palermo. It’s worth it!

The next task was our main goal for the day – Cefalu. It is around 70 km away from Palermo and we had to go through the hellish traffic of the city again. I’ll skip the explanation as I told you about it in my previous diary and after an hour or so we arrived in Cefalu.

I must warn you – there’s a part of the road where you must pay a toll tax. There are barriers on the road and when you enter you take a ticket and on the exit you pay. Everything is equipped with automates, there are no people anywhere but it’s made really simple. Our tax was 1.1 euro for most of the day and the machines return change.

Our first stop in Cefalu was the beach with huge parking next to it. The price for the whole day was 8 euro, otherwise each hour in an euro.

It was almost lunch and we were more than eager to swim in this hot weather so we didn’t look for any restaurant, just bought some sandwiches from the first kiosk we saw. This turned out a great idea as they were really tasty.

Beautiful Cefalu offers a rare combination of tourist attractions: one of Sicily’s finest beaches side-by-side with one of its greatest Arab-Norman architectural masterpieces.

Get there early – especially if you’re travelling in a group of more than two people. Space is at a premium, and if you need a lot of it, you’ll need to beat the Italians to the public part of the beach! There are a number of lidos on the beach where, for a fixed price, you can rent two sun loungers and an umbrella for a day. The most interesting feature of the beach is it’s location – so close to the city that some of the houses are built right on it’s edge.

As you can see, the water was crystal clear again and shallow so a visit with children should go as smooth as possible.

After spending some hours here we decide that it’s time to see some of the town’s famous tourist sites, starting from the narrow alleys. It’s lovely just to wander through them and feel the atmosphere that made the famous director Giuseppe Tornatore to choose the town for his masterpiece Cinema Paradiso.

At this walk we reached the Medieval washhouse, which was entirely carved out from the rock and active until recently. After descending its suggestive lava stone, curved steps, we find ourselves in a half-covered space hosting a number of ancient basins, fed by the Cefalino river that flows out from twenty-two iron lion-shaped mouths.

The covered area is surmounted by a large arch with a strong Arab influence. On the right side of the entrance a singular inscription brings us back to an ancient legend: “Here flows Cefalino, healthier than any other river, purer than silver, colder than snow “.  Legend has it that Cefalino generated from the unceasing tears of a nymph who repented having punished with death the infidelity of her beloved.

The visit is free of charge and shows us a not so popular part of everyday life.

The city is dominated by a monumental rock that rises up to 270 metres in height already known to the Phoenicians as “promontory of Hercules” on which the Temple of Diana stands, a megalithic building linked to the worship of the water, as indicated by the nearby cistern dating from the ninth century BC. 

The historic district is lying in the shadow of this bastion and clings around its beating heart which is undoubtedly the Duomo, a gigantic cathedral built by Roger II, the Norman.

According to a legend, the cathedral would be built in this city and not in Palermo, the capital of the kingdom, following a vow made to the Holy Saviour by Roger himself, who escaped a storm and landed on the beaches of the village. More likely are the motivations of a political-military nature, given the connotations of the territory and the undeniable characteristics of an natural fortress and the off the scale proportions of the Basilica.

While it may seem strange, this symbol of the power of a Norman king, he found inspired protagonists in the work force and in the real Islamic architects. The design outline, in fact, is the same one as other masterpieces of Palermo, inspired by the magnificence of the zirid and hammadid fortress-palaces typical of the Maghreb. Severe buildings, compact in the block of the two towers but bright due to the gold of the walls and the reflections of the mosaics. Inside, the imposing colonnade marks the rhythm of the environment and leads our attention to the benevolent gaze of the Christ Pantocrator, a beautiful Byzantine mosaic on a gold background with inscriptions in Greek and Latin. The wooden cross hanging in the central apse is attributed to Guglielmo da Pesaro. Also remarkable is the cloister adjoining the cathedral, decorated with columns and carved capitals and the Romanesque font.

This was the last part of our walk in Cefalu. We loved the town and I recommend a visit no matter if you are a museum and architecture fan or of beaches and walk. Here you can enjoy both or just what you like. There is something for everyone.

Here are some photos:

Not to forget, here for the first time I saw the right way to serve the incredible canoli. The true, original ones are sold when the waffle part is filled with cream just after you order. This way they stay crispy and tasty. As you can imagine, they were gorgeous.

I’m finishing this diary with two photos from the road and the rocks near our apartment so that I can start to prepare the next day of our holiday – to Palermo. As you can imagine the city was noisy, colourful, tiresome and very, very interesting.

Stay tuned and don’t stop travelling!

Author: marinelapetrunova

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