Palermo, the capital of Sicily, fascinates with its history, magnificent monuments and a considerable number of museums and galleries that attract many visitors and art enthusiasts with their exhibitions. With this article we would like to give you an overview of Palermo's museums, so that you can dive specifically into the world of art during your next visit.
by: Adriana Cuffaro | 07 Nov 2021
A comprehensive and important collection of Greek and Punic art is home to the Antonino Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum. Here we can gain a deep insight into the history of Sicily, as the exhibition rooms reveal objects dating back many thousands of years - from prehistory to the Middle Ages.
The museum is located near the Teatro Massimo theater in a restored former convent of the Congregation of St. Philip Neri. Over three floors and two courtyards with arcaded walkways, Greek bronze figures such as the bronze statue of Hercules, prehistoric finds such as fascinating cave paintings from the Monte Pellegrino cave, details of Greek temples, Roman sarcophagi and the famous Palermo stone delight visitors.
The archaeologist Antonino Salinas (1841-1914) put a lot of effort into expanding the exhibition, which was initially based on the collection of the Museo dell'Università, founded in 1814. It is in his honor that the museum now bears his epithet.
Through donations, private collections and systematic excavations, the collection expanded over the years. In addition to the extensive art treasures, the museum also houses valuable books as well as a collection of historical engravings and a specialized archaeological library.
In addition to the collection worth seeing, the beautiful ambience speaks for itself: exotic trees and fountains in stylish courtyards that invite you to take a little cultural break.
One of the most impressive paintings in the world adorns the walls of Palazzo Abatellis in the old town: the Mary of the Annunciation (Annunziata di Palermo) by old master Antonello da Messina. The early Renaissance painting was created at the height of the Sicilian painter's creative period between 1474-1476. The small-format painting documents the Annunciation scene with a maximum of emotion, which makes the work unsurpassed.
It is one of the most valuable exhibits in the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia in Palermo, which is housed in the plain palace of Matteo Carnelivari.
The museum is the largest of all art museums in Sicily and focuses on paintings and sculptures by Sicilian artists from the Middle Ages to modern times. Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa, who implemented the artistic design of the interior, created a remarkable ambience for the presentation of special works of art. German architect and Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius praised his work as "the best museum setting he had ever seen."
For fans of sacred art, a visit to the Museo Diocesano di Palermo is a must. The archbishop's Palazzo Arcivescovile, opposite the cathedral, houses an impressive art show inside with over 200 works from the 15th to the 19th century. To a large extent, the sacred works of art date from the cathedral before its renovation and remodeling in the neoclassical style in 1781.
Exhibits from destroyed and bombed churches are also displayed here. Paintings, sculptures and decorative arts provide a comprehensive overview of the art of sacred buildings through a chronological tour.
Great artists such as Antonello Gagini and his son Vincenzo Gaggini, who dominated the art world of Sicily in the 16th century, are represented in this museum. Also works of Pietro Novelli and his school and the famous chapel with frescoes, impressive murals, by the Flemish painter Guglielmo Borremans around 1733 can be admired here.
Our selection on the theme of Palermo Museum includes this particular one, based on the commitment of the museum owner. In the heart of Palermo, the private collection of Sicilian and Neapolitan mosaics from several centuries attracts art enthusiasts.
The ceramic art majolica is deeply rooted in Sicily. The Museo delle Maioliche specializes in handmade tiles. Exhibits from the 16th to the 20th century adorn the walls of the private house Palazzo Torre Piraino.
In seven rooms, art lovers and tourists can get a comprehensive overview of the old craft. A reservation for this museum visit with private flair is absolutely necessary.
A very special place is the Museo internazionale delle marionette Antonio Pasqualino, located in the Kalsa district. The cultural-historical museum lets us look behind the scenes of the puppet theater culture. In the 19th century, puppet theater in Sicily advanced to become a celebrated street art. Meanwhile, the Sicilian puppet theater, opera die pupi, has been declared Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
The fascinating collection of the surgeon and clinic director Antonia Pasqualino extends over three floors. It includes, in addition to over 3500 Sicilian and international puppets, a book and video library and a theater with special performances.
For lovers of the Belle Époque, a visit to the Galleria d'Arte Moderna Sant'Anna is an artistic must. Located in the Kalsa district, the museum is housed in two magnificent buildings: the former Baroque convent and the Gothic Palazzo Bonet. It displays works of art by Italian and international artists spanning the period from the mid-19th century to the 1960s. The founder was the lawyer and teacher Empedocle Restivo.
The permanent exhibition, with over two hundred works of art, 176 paintings and 38 sculptures, illustrates in fourteen thematic sections the evolution of Italian art between the 19th and 20th centuries.
Large-scale works by Giuseppe Sciuti, the landscape paintings of Francesco Lojacono, naturalistic works by Antonio Leto and the paintings of Ettore De Maria Bergler with Art Nouveau touches can be admired here.
Massimo Campigli, Felice Casorati, Mario Sironi, Renato Guttuso and Franz von Stuck represent the period of the Novecento Italiano movement of the 20th century. Here, the focus was on turning away from modernism and looking to late medieval and Renaissance motifs.
When modern meets contemporary art, we are in Palazzo Branciforte. The baroque palace from the 16th century presents the important collections of the "Fondazione Sicilia" on an area of 5,650 square meters. In addition to archaeological artifacts, stamps, coins and ceramics, we can also find impressive sculptures and frescoes on wooden panels. The permanent exhibition is complemented by regular temporary exhibitions.
The exhibition rooms on the first floor reveal archaeological finds and historical ceramics, consisting of purchases by private owners, finds from excavations or borrowed objects. Here we can find some very rare pieces from Sicily. In the main part of the building we can be delighted by collections of stamps, coins and sculptures.
The historical library with more than 40,000 books is also housed in this area. Especially the collection of stamps contains examples of exceptional interest and rarity. 55 sculptures from the 19th and 20th centuries will also convince art lovers. The Monte di Santa Rosalia rooms reflect a magnificent wooden architecture with wooden shelves, interior staircases and platforms.
A particularly extraordinary collection of puppets, stage sets, playbills and barrel organs, as testimony to the ancient theatrical tradition, completes the Sicilian heritage of this museum.
The stylish Villa Zito boasts an excellent collection of paintings and graphic works. It is named in honor of the rich citrus merchant Francesco Zito, who bought it in 1909.
An important core of the collection are private donations, which enrich the exhibition with numerous works by well-known artists. The art show extends over three floors. On the first floor, two rooms are dedicated to the donations of Rizzo Amorello. The first floor fascinates with graphic works and paintings from the 15th-19th centuries. And the second floor presents the donation of Cuccio Ales Cartaino, in addition to paintings from the 20th century.
The collection of paintings is divided into three sections: The first thematic area is Ancient Painting, with the main figures of the Baroque style in the 17th and 18th centuries. This style is represented by the artists Mattia Preti, Luca Giordano, Bernardo Strozzi, Francesco Solimena, Salvador Rosa.
The 1800s with landscape motifs and themes focusing realism and naturalism are represented by the greatest leading artists in Sicily. Here we find works by Francesco Lojacono, Antonino Leto, Michele Catti and Ettore De Maria Bergler.
And finally we find the 1900s represented by exhibits of Sicilian and Italian artists Aleardo Terzi, Camillo Innocenti, Mario Sironi, Filippo De Pisis, Ottone Rosai, Carlo Carré, Arturo Tosi, Ugo Attardi, Fausto Pirandello, Renato Guttuso, Armando Pizzinato, Corrado Cagli.
The collection of graphic works includes a wide range of geographical and topographical maps, landscapes and birdwatching of cities. Most of the works were realized between the 16th and 19th centuries and depict historical events, religious celebrations or local customs.
For lovers of evolutionary history, the Museo Geologica Paleontologica G.G. Gemmellaro should be at the top of the visit agenda. The geological and paleontological museum is one of the most important institutions in the Mediterranean and is part of the University of Palermo as a research and teaching institution.
It owes its name to the Palermo scientist Gaetano Giorgio Gemmellaro, who took over the institute and its natural history collection in 1860 from his predecessor, the scientist Pietro Calcara (1819-1854).
Gemmallaro carried out numerous researches and focused on the Sicilian dwarf elephants and various lava rocks. He founded stratigraphy, the basis for the history of all life on Earth.
The comprehensive collection is divided into four exhibition rooms. Fossils from the beginning of the Earth's history to the Tertiary are exhibited in the main room, the Sala Burgio. Here, the focus is on the development of the continents and living creatures. Maps skillfully illustrate the migration of the continents.
In the Sala degli elefanti you can admire skeletons and fossils of deceased mammals such as elephants, bison or turtles. Particularly interesting is the display about the evolution of elephants, extinct on the island, which had migrated from Africa to Sicily.
In the Sala dei Cristalli we find mineralogical treasures such as lava rocks and calcites, some of which were formed six million years ago. Geological highlights here are, for example, pieces of lava from Isola Ferdinandea and a stone with an enclosed drop of seawater.
The history of human development and culture on the island are on display in the Sala del Uomo. This reveals the findings from the Grotta San Teodoro near Acquedolci. Stone instruments, bite marks on materials, but also human skeletons can be admired here. The oldest skeleton of a Sicilian woman (about 11,000 years BC) is particularly impressive.
Fishes, reptiles, birds, mammals - not only for children, but also for big fauna fans, the Museum of Zoology in Palermo is particularly worth seeing. It was founded in the 19th century by the Italian zoologist and geologist Prof. Pierto Doderlein, to whom it owes its name.
The original fish, reptiles, birds, mammals - not only for children, but also for big fauna fans, the Museum of Zoology in Palermo is particularly worth seeing. It was founded in the 19th century by the Italian zoologist and geologist Prof. Pierto Doderlein, to whom it owes its name.
The original furnishings allow visitors to skilfully recreate the atmosphere of the old days. Research and science provide the right dash of modernity here. Regular conferences of academic lecturers from national and international institutions as well as exciting laboratory activities for children are often found here in the cultural program.
About 1000 specimens of dried fish of the Mediterranean from the 18th century make this collection one of the most important in Europe. About 500 reptiles and amphibians stored and dried in alcohol are also an integral part of the museum. Among them, for example, the allochthonous, such as Xenopus laevis, a predatory frog that originated in Africa.
The Doderlein collection also includes rare migratory birds and bird species that have become extinct on the island, such as the eagle owl. As many as 1000 taxidermy specimens can be admired here. Among the 250 stuffed mammals from Europe, Asia, Africa and America, two Sicilian wolves, whose species has long been extinct, are the highlight. Invertebrates and thousands of mollusks complete the collection.
Palermo Museum - pure art and culture
Palermo has a wide range of museums. We have compiled here the most important museums from our point of view. Depending on the area of interest, however, there is still a variety of interesting museums.
We would not miss to mention the Palazzo Asmundo Museum, which preserves the Martorana collection. Also worth a visit is the Sicilian Pitrè Museum of Ethnography. For those interested in the unvarnished history of the Mafia, the No Mafia Memorial or Museo Falcone-Borsellino is a must. In the Museo del Risorgimento we learn interesting facts about the history of the Italian wars of independence.
Also well worth a visit is Palazzo Conte Federico, one of Palermo's oldest historic buildings. Here art lovers can expect a private guided tour of the historic building with paintings by famous artists, 17th century wooden ceilings, 18th century frescoes and ancient ceramics.
Our conclusion: The offer of art and culture is as multifaceted as the cityscape!
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