Goethe's Sicily - Part 1: the landing in Palermo

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Martí Micolau

wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

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The fame of its beauty is universal: the colors, the scents, the traditions of various civilizations, the history of one millennial culture represent a whole that tells all the charm of splendid Sicily. There are countless verses with which great poets and writers, between the 700th and 800th centuries, immortalized Sicily, bewitched by the beauty, the shapes, its flavors and the thousand facets of its colors: writers like Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, who in 1787 undertook his first trip to Italy which also took him to Sicily. From Viaggio in Italia: I can't describe in words the vaporous luminosity that floated around the coasts when we arrived in Palermo on a gorgeous afternoon. The purity of the contours, the softness of the whole, the degradation of the tones, the harmony of the sky, the sea, the earth ... whoever has seen them once does not forget them for a lifetime.
Goethe arrived in Palermo on April 2, 1787 and, in the eyes of the German traveler, the beauty and charm of the city were exalted by exciting him as in front of a painting by Lorrain: Our first care was to study the city well, very easy to observe superficially. but difficult to know; easy because a road several miles long crosses it from the lower door to the upper one, that is from the marina to the mountain, and is in turn crossed by another one roughly in the middle, so that what is on these two lines is easily visible ; the inner city, on the other hand, confuses the stranger, who can only go into this labyrinth with the help of a guide. How it welcomed us, I have no words to say: with fresh mulberry greens, evergreen oleanders, lemons, etc. In a public garden there were large beds of buttercups and anemones. The air was mild, warm, fragrant, the wind was soft. Behind a promontory the moon could be seen rising and reflected in the sea. What Goethe wrote were extraordinary pages, and still today they are the best advertising for the great Italian island; Goethe was so fascinated by it that he made a statement which, even today, is one of his own best known quotes and appreciate: Italy without Sicily leaves no image in the spirit. Here is the key to everything.


  1. Goethe's Palermo
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Goethe's Palermo

The city of Palermo, founded by the Phoenicians with the name Zyz (which in Phoenician means "the flower") acquires commercial importance thanks to its position and the two navigable rivers Kemonia and Papireto, so much so that it became a popular destination for the Greeks who populated the eastern part of Sicily.
However, it was the Muslims of North Africa, who occupied Palermo in the th century, who determined its splendor by defining it as "paradise on earth"; the Arabs introduced the first citrus groves, the Conca d'oro and thus began the economic development of the city, which had its maximum splendor during the Norman-Swabian period.
Artistic-historical evidence of this period are the Zisa Castle (from the Arabic al-Azīza, which means "the splendid"), the Maredolce Castle and asked her to San Cataldo e St. John of the Hermits.
It overlooks Piazza Bellini in Palermo Church of S. Maria dell'Ammiraglio or San Nicolò dei Greci, better known as Martorana; it is part of the Eparchy of Piana degli Albanesi (Catholic diocese with Greek-Byzantine rite) and is one of the most fascinating Byzantine churches dating back to the Middle Ages.
The charm, the beauty of Church of the Martorana they are due to the combination of styles, artistic and architectural details with which it has been enriched over the centuries.
A day dedicated to the most important monuments of Palermo is a must: the Cathedral, a building with multiple styles (Romanesque, Norman, Gothic, Baroque, Neoclassical), consecrated to the Virgin Mary, after being transformed into a mosque by the Saracens, it was returned to Christian worship by the Normans; the Chiaromonte Palace, in Chiaromontano style, la Church of San Francesco (inside there are beautiful Renaissance sculptures from Gagini and Laurana).
The style that most characterizes the architecture of Palermo is probably the baroque that we can admire in the Oratories of Santa Cita and Rosary of San Domenico, with the presence of mixed marbles and stuccoes by Serpotta, typical of the Palermo Baroque.
To better follow the path traced by Goethe and to be able to grasp the same emotions, one must visit the evocative remains of the Church of S. Maria dello Spasimo, in the ancient Arab quarter of Kalsa: the altar of the church, dating back to before 1519, housed a splendid painting by Raphael entitled "Spasimo di Sicilia" (also "Gone to Calvary"), now preserved in the Prado Museum in Madrid.
Abandoned for many centuries, today the Spasimo church hosts theatrical and musical events.
The magnificent view over Palermo and the Conca d'Oro it is possible to admire it in all its beauty from Sanctuary of Santa Rosalia, on Monte Pellegrino, considered by Goethe one of the most interesting stages of his stay in Palermo; the German writer, who defined Monte Pellegrino "the most beautiful promontory in the world", wrote about it, then dwelling on the statue of Patron Saint of Palermo: On reaching the top of the mountain, where this forms a niche in the rock, we find ourselves in front of a sheer wall to which the church and the convent seem to hang (...) A beautiful young girl appeared to me then, in the light of some quiet lamps. She seemed as if rapt in ecstasy, with half-veiled eyes, her head limply dropped on her right hand, loaded with rings. I could not get enough of contemplating it, as if it had had a wholly singular charm. The gold foil robe perfectly imitated a gold-woven fabric. The head and hands of white marble were, I will not say very elegantly stylized, but all the way so natural, so seductive, as to make one believe that she was breathing and moving.
Continue the journey, go to Part 2: The Temples

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