While some of the crumbling palazzi bombed in WWII are being restored, others remain dilapidated; turned into shabby apartments, the faded glory of their ornate façades is just visible behind strings of brightly coloured washing. The evocative history of the city remains very much part of the daily life of its inhabitants, and the dusty web of backstreet markets in the old quarter has a tangible Middle Eastern feel.
The flip side is the modern city, a mere 15-minute stroll away, parts of which could be neatly jigsawed and slotted into Paris with their grid system of wide avenues lined by seductive shops and handsome 19th-century apartments.
At one time an Arab emirate and seat of a Norman kingdom, Palermo became Europe’s grandest city in the 12th century but, in recent years, its fame (or notoriety) has originated mainly from headline-grabbing assassinations and political corruption. The Mafia still maintains a stranglehold on the city; many of the judges require 24-hour police surveillance and protection payoffs remain commonplace.
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