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22 June 2020 - Day 72 –Cefalù to Palermo

While I really didn’t need to stay in #Messina until 10:40, I just wasn’t psyched to catch a train before 8am. So I slept in, and opted for the afternoon in Cefalù. What I did do in Messina after the normal morning ablutions and packing was a trip to the maritime dock where the ferries with trains arrived.

My pictures come from Google, as no ferry was in port when I was there, so all I saw was tracks disappearing into a building and dropping into the sea, but the whole concept of up to three ships carrying carriages, and engines coming and pulling them off was just too cool. Next time.

Still with plenty of time, I stopped in a little café on my way to the regular train station (maybe 400m?) and got my cornetti and coffee, this time to sit and people watch. Getting into the terminal 20 minutes early, there wasn’t much traffic, so it was easy to find the platform for the 10:40, which continued on to Palermo.

Up into a carriage, my roller went into the luggage storage area on the bottom (always my preference) and I found a window seat on the north side (water view, plus less sun). We pulled out on time, and I made brief notes in my journal about my departure from the third largest city in Sicily.

Two hours later, the train pulled into #Cefalù. Albeit a small town, it is a major stop on the tourist trail. My first stop was The Shipping Center, who would hold my roller for €1 per hour, and located 300m west of the station. Quickly accomplishing that task, I was off to the northeast on major roads through the retail section. In 15 minutes, I was looking up at the Duomo di Cefalù.

The Basilica Cattedrale della Trasfigurazione is basically Norman architecture on the outside. With twenty stone steps up from the cobblestone street, through a pair of posts bearing statues and anchoring a wrought iron fence around a large plaza, seemingly twin stone towers anchor either side of the west façade. Three slightly pointed (very early gothic) arches form the entry to a covered patio in front of the entry door. Above, interlaced arches decorate the walls on either side of the larger, deeper arch containing a stained-glass window. A third, shorter level has small columns separating slit windows.

The interior nave and side aisle walls are washed plaster. Mismatched columns on older pediments support older capitals holding arches and the clerestory walls. The transept has a higher vault than the nave’s open ladder wood, which extends to the aisles.

Controversial new stained-glass windows

Three curved and domed apses complete the east end; with the central covered with an awesome gold and blue Christ the Pantokrator mosaic, which continues to the vault and upper side walls. A singular main altar table sits on a marble riser on the red marble chancel floor which is two sets of two steps from the crossing floor, three above the nave floor.

The contrast from the area with pews to the raised crossing and chancel (and the two side apses, to the Virgin Mary on the right, and the Sacrament on the left), going from plain unadorned walls to spectacle struck me as typical of the hierarchy. Maybe I’m getting too jaded after completing 8 weeks of European cathedral visits. Great art, but at what cost over centuries? At least when I went out into the cloister, I found some inner peace in nature.

There were two more trains departing from when I left the cloister before when I’d planned on continuing on to Palermo. The castle and the Temple to Diana were up the cliff and well out of reach for me this trip. I decided to walk to the edge of the sea, then along it, stopping at a few “landmarks” and see when I reached the station.

Walking due north, I came to Bastione di Capo Marchiafava. A defensive structure with great views built out into the water, I liked the sea-formed rocks lining the barriers for the houses to either side and the lighthouse off in the far distance.

Following the coastline west, I came to the Porta Pescara, the fishing docks. There was a beach of sorts here, and, despite the low 70’s temperature, hardy (foolish?) souls were in the water. Quaint filled narrow streets full of color brought me to my next stop, the Lavatoio Medievale Fiume Cefalino.

This public (clothes) wash house receives cool water from mountain streams, and had been in use in Cefalù from medieval times until “well into the twentieth century” per Atlas Obscura.

Coming around a slight bend in the coast, the old town just ended at the Piazza Cristoforo Colombo, as the lido widened and the beach vendors had umbrellas lined up like soldiers. Continuing for a while, when I found myself walking between a large parking lot and the beach, I turned inland.

Coming to the street I’d taken to the cathedral, I turned towards my luggage storage place and retrieve my bag about an hour earlier than I’d planned. Back to the train station, I had 10-15 minutes before the 15:26 to Palermo was due to arrive. Boarding and finding room, which took a bit of maneuvering on the upper level, I got a seat on the aisle facing rearward, with a couple opposite and their gear (and his shoes) on the seat by the window. I set to updating my journal while occasionally looking across the aisle and passengers to the water.

Allowing most of the passengers to rush off when the train reached Palermo Centrale, I got my bag down and out of the carriage, and walked the platform to the waiting area before pulling out my phone to figure out how to get to my lodgings. Al Vicolo B&B was about a half kilometer, rounding the Piazza Giulio Cesare in front of the station, 2 blocks north and 2 blocks west. The station is a big old multistory red stone structure, the terminus for train lines with efficient platforms.

Down a narrow alley, number 10 proved to be an unassuming wooden door with a code box on the right. Switching from Maps to email, I pulled up my instructions, coded myself into the four-story building. Following directions, I took the lift to the second level (US third floor) and found my room, #32. A simple room with a bed, an easy chair, built-in desk surface and a WC, it had room for the roller to be open on the floor, so I was pleased. A sliding door opened to a narrow balcony looking out back. It would work fine for two nights. I hung up the parka and heavy jacket, put some polo shirts, skivvies and socks in the bureau drawers and grabbed my rucksack to head out.

#Palermo has a cathedral and a co-cathedral, and I was closer to the latter, which would close in 40 minutes and was less than 10 minutes away. Yes, I could see it tomorrow, but I had time. Passing bars, restaurants, shops and churches, I was at the Piazza Bellini before 5pm.

The Concattedrale Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio is an imposing structure, with other churches quite nearby. Known also as Martorana, I headed inside to get shots before closing at 17:30.

As I swiftly moved around the church, I noticed that the eastern end, the chancel and apses, were decorated with Byzantine mosaics, looking very much like the icons I’ve seen in Orthodox churches and cathedrals, while the nave, particularly in the vault, were frescoes. Similar to what I’d seen I Cefalù, the Eastern influence in a Norman church was rather strong. I didn’t find literature to scan, so my understanding came after I had been asked to leave at closing


My initial guess, just looking at the fact there was a cathedral and a co-cathedral was that the second was an adjunct to the main cathedral, taking over some of the functions, usually due to size or location. Well, in this case, the Church of St Mary of the Admiral is the co-cathedral to the Eparchy of Piana degli Albanesi of the Italo-Albanian Catholic Church. (There’s the cathedral in Piana degli Albanesi that I didn’t know about, too.) Ancient Greek and Albanian are the languages used in services and rites at this co-cathedral, which might have been interesting to observe.

In any case, the mosaics are beautiful, if ostentatious. A lot of marble is used throughout, from the columns to the floor to the lower walls. I suspect that if I had more time, and was a little less jaded than I am now after however many churches and cathedrals I’ve seen in 10 weeks, I could spend at least an hour just studying these works of religious art. It’s definitely a church I would hope to revisit on another trip to Sicily.

Arriving at the piazza, I assumed that the church aligned to the impressive tall door facing out onto the piazza. With elegant double columns with gilded capitals, a gilt shield above bronze doors, I was confused to find the entrance was actually through the bell tower to the right. Of course, once I recognized that the campanile was the western façade, it all began making sense. The base of the church is up 19 steps from the plaza, positioned on the old city walls.

Entering, the vault is tall. From the nave, the fresco in the vault is shades of sky blue, while the side aisles’ vaults are closer to a royal blue with gold stars, and the arches are gold mosaic. Various marbles have been used for the columns in the nave. At the crossing, a lantern dome triggers a significant change: the vaults are now primarily gold, mosaic, and feature saints and angels rather than the pastoral scenes to the rear. A second dome over the central apse features a fresco of heavenly scenes, with an icon of Christ the Pantokrator surrounded by archangels on the wall below, above the large blue and gold tabernacle. The walls of this apse are filled with carved figures of vegetables, fruits, animals and saints. The south apse has a gilt fresco icon of Christ holding the Gospel of John.

Out on the Piazza Bellini, I was intrigued by the neighboring Chiesa San Cataldo, which has three red domes, and sits up on the same level as the co-cathedral. It was still open, so I ventured in. Very different, the walls are stone blocks, with the three domes aligned over the nave center aisle. Little ornamentation, there are several small marble columns at the edges of the apses, with three pairs of tall columns supporting the domes.

The flooring is a fairly well-preserved tile mosaic. Simple stone block altars front the apses, which have stained-glass lights at the rear; the side apses present icons, while the center has a small crucifix. Banners of the sponsoring Order of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem Cross in red on white, are displayed.

Back out on the piazza, I started towards the cathedral. The area I’d left was surrounded by historic churches, and when I reached where I would turn left, to the right a square and fountain caught my eye. The Fontana Pretoria is rather large, with 48 statues, was originally installed in Florence, and was sold to the City of Palermo in 1573. Notoriety for the number of nude figures, it subsequently required restoration, which was recently completed. I found it rather amusing.

Down the street, I reached the Cassaro Alto. This is a huge square, with the southern façade of the Palermo Cathedral along the long edge. One look at the majestic size of the cathedral, and I figured it was best left until tomorrow. I decided to head back towards the flat, with the thought of wetting my whistle somewhere along the way. Quasi-diagonally, I was about a kilometer away, so I let Maps guide me through neighborhoods with schools, dwellings, an impromptu mosque, an open-air market, an open-air seafood market too, but no watering hole. I’d picked up a few nibbles at the first market, so when I got upstairs, I sat and relaxed and updated my journal while noshing on cheese, nuts and dried fruits.

As it rolled towards 8pm, I figured I should go find dinner. Per Google Maps, many dining establishments were north of me within a kilometer.

Trattoria Old School da Anto promised to be Sicilian, so I walked by and like the open air, on the sidewalk, inexpensive feel. I felt like a 2-pasta night, so I got the half liter of red and proceeded to order: ragù bianco, and risotto fantasia. All comfort food. The red wine was adequate, the spaghetti with white sauce and veggies and some meat sliced thin and chopped bite sized was great. Risotto, if done well, and this was, was superb. And I went for dessert and (decaf) coffee, a chocolate chip cannoli. Always best when filled to order.

Taking an alternate, slightly longer but more commercial route home, I came upon La Fontana del Genio, and resolved to get the story. (Emblem of the city, origins uncertain, old man with boy’s body, wearing a crown and holding a snake?) It was interesting window shopping with everything closed and street traffic about half of what it had been earlier.

Back in the flat, with the journal out of the way, I started with the blog. Downloading pictures, I starting spotting ones I might use. Tomorrow I’m heading to Monreale in the morning, back to see the cathedral in the afternoon, and then two guided walks. I get to sleep late tomorrow morning!

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