In the words of a Sicilian proverb “He who goes to Palermo without seeing Monreale leaves a donkey and comes back an ass”.
As I wandered around the cathedral there I had to agree. It was built by William II to try and outdo the efforts of his grandfather Roger II – he was determined that his efforts were going to be the biggest and the best. The shimmering mosaics show 42 bible stories, many with a humourous touch: a grumpy Eve sits on a rock watching Adam toiling away after being thrown out of Eden and Noah’s Ark is full of faces peering anxiously out. As you work your way around the cathedral the stories are instantly recognisable, and you marvel at the amazing achievements of the Greek and Byzantine craftsmen who completed it in ten years. When you finally drag yourself away from the mosaics, the cloisters and the piazza await. Find yourself a restaurant or café overlooking Palermo, order yourself a plate of pasta and a glass of wine and soak up the view.
Back down in Palermo venture off the beaten track and wander towards the waterfront. As you enter the Piazza Marina you will be amazed by the weird and wonderful trees in front of you. Enclosed in the Giardino Garibaldi these enormous Banyan trees are extraordinary. Their aerial roots dangle down, root, solidify and the branches grow longer and longer. Apart from the Banyan trees the Piazza Marina is full of history. It was the home of the Inquisition and many executions took place here.
Wander onwards and you will reach the botanical gardens, a haven of peace in the noisy hurly burly that is
Palermo. It is a real tropical paradise and it is hard to believe that the nearest traffic is only feet away. It is
owned by the University of Palermo and research is done here into the medicinal properties of the plants.