Palermo & its beautiful historic gardens

Mara Noveni | Live the World

May 29, 2024

These are the words of Johann Wolfgang Goethe in his famous work "Journey to Italy". The writer, poet and playwright fell in love with the Sicilian capital during his stay in Italy and later published his most famous work in 1816.

These are the emotions that the city of Palermo aroused in this great author and which still arouses today. Undoubtedly the mild climate and the privileged geographical position have allowed Palermo to become a large garden. Every historical period and every domination, from the Arabs to the Bourbons, as well as the fabulous architecture of palaces and churches, has left behind a green heritage. Thus, by visiting Palermo and its beautiful historic gardens, one realizes the beauty and diversity of these green places.

And it is precisely the diversity that makes each garden unique and unrepeatable. In fact, thanks to the presence of these green places, the city is embellished and given back to its people and visitors with something more to visit: wonderful avenues embellished with statues and fountains; or the famous Ficus macrophylla, the largest tree in Europe, which symbolizes the unification of Italy; or pleasant places where to go jogging or enjoy the cool air, sitting on a bench.

© iStock / Paolo Gagliardi

The Foro Italico

The Foro Italico of Palermo, or Promenade of the Marina, is a large green area on the seafront. The seafront was commissioned by the viceroy Marco Antonio Colonna in 1582, and after about 150 years, it was enlarged and embellished, becoming one of the favourite leisure destinations for the Palermitans.

Throughout the Bourbon domination, it was called the Bourbon Forum, and at the end of the 19th century, the current name was given by the Sicilian Parliament. During the Second World War, the area was destroyed, and even the seafront remained uncultivated and abandoned for years. Only towards the end of the 1990s was the site redeveloped and restored to its original beauty. Sofa benches overlooking the sea have been placed there.

The English Garden

This English Garden, which today bears the name of Parco Piersanti Mattarella, was created towards the middle of the 19th century, with a trendy scheme at that time, following the shapes and natural morphology of the land to give it a more natural air, precisely creating an "English garden". In addition, plants from all over the world were inserted to make the environment more exotic. The avenues wind between seven small hills, groves, gardens and hedges.

Inside the villa, there are marble busts, bronze sculptures and a monument to fallen soldiers, works of the best Sicilian sculptors. The sculpture of the Brothers by Mario Rutelli has been inserted in the central lake. In the central area is the Saracen castle, a neo-Moorish pavilion.

© iStock / Arpan

The Botanical Garden

The Botanical Garden was created at the end of the 18th century to complement the Chair of Botany of the Royal Academy. It represents a realization of exceptional interest in its historical, scientific and didactic value.

The Botanical Garden has about 10,000 species, some even rare, belonging to about 250 families. In the part that runs along the road, the buildings for studying and conserving plants and seeds were built: the Gymnasium, the Library and the Herbariums.

The project was carried out by the French architect Leon Dufourny who, influenced by the archaeological excavations, introduced the neo-Grecist style inspired by Greek architecture. The buildings of the Calidarium and Tepidarium, the warehouse, and the caretaker's house are noteworthy for their particular architecture. Of particular interest are also; the Aquarium, composed of three circular and concentric basins with a rock in the centre that houses a dolphin and some marble ducks; the exotic grove with the papyrus basin; the bamboo grove; the greenhouse, a winter garden in cast iron and glass with a rectangular plan, which houses exotic plants.

© iStock / francescasciarra

La Favorita Park

La Favorita Park is located at the foot of Monte Pellegrino and represents the green lung of the city since it is the largest green area in Palermo, with 400 hectares.

The park was commissioned by Ferdinand III di Borbone to create a place to hunt, experiment with new agricultural crops and enjoy the cool air during the sultry summer days. Two long avenues, named after Hercules and Diana, cross the park, designed for walking, today, they are very busy communication routes because they connect the city with the famous Mondello Beach.

Viale d'Ercole ends with a 19th-century fountain in neoclassical style, which houses a recently restored statue of the mythical Hercules.

© Palermo Municipality / unknown author

The Orleans Park 

The Orleans Park is part of the homonymous villa, which houses the seat of the Presidency of the Sicily Region. It was built in the mid-nineteenth century and was used for a long time for agricultural experimentation. It has recently been transformed into an ornithological park, the only one in Italy, and is home to many species of exotic and Mediterranean birds.

In addition to the numerous rare exotic parrot species, it is possible to observe storks, flamingos, pelicans and native birds. There are also some fawns.

© Palermo Municipality / unknown author

Villa Garibaldi

Villa Garibaldi was built in 1863 in the centre of Piazza Marina and named after the hero Giuseppe Garibaldi to celebrate the birth of the Italian nation. Among the many exotic plants it hosts, the large ficus is undoubtedly the main attraction and is considered one of the largest in Italy, with 30 meters in height and a circumference of the trunk that exceeds 21 metres.

Following its creation, a cistern and a service tower were built at the beginning of the century, then in the 1920s, the pavilion used as a cafeteria was built, and again in the 1930s, the refreshment pavilion, with its modernist decorations. The flower beds with irregular and curved shapes alternate with a large circular pool, a small artificial lake.

© iStock / KURLIN_CAfE

Villa Giulia

Villa Giulia owes its name to the vicereine Giulia D'Avalons, wife of the viceroy Marcantonio Colonna, it was built in 1777 and represents the first public garden in Italy. The plan of the villa follows the layout of an Italian garden, with precise geometric rules: symmetrical avenues and a circular square in the centre. At the opposite ends, there are four semicircular exedras.

In the centre is the fountain of the Genius of Palermo, the great old crowned man, a symbol of the city. Four neo-Pompeian-style pavilions have been located in the central square.

© Palermo Municipality / unknown author

Without a doubt, the long and articulated history of Sicily, the many dominations, and the different customs have contributed to making Palermo a city so rich in green spaces. In fact, all these dominations have left us a treasure of art and greenery that embellishes Palermo and its surroundings.

The Arabs, in particular, have contributed positively to the development of Sicily and the city of Palermo. They transformed this city into a large Muslim centre and created the horticultural wealth of Sicily, introducing many hitherto unknown crops.

From the many writers and poets who have visited the city throughout history, starting with the aforementioned Goethe, it can be deduced that everyone has looked at Palermo as a luxuriant city full of gardens and springs. Likewise, everyone has praised the seductive beauty of Palermo and Sicily, dedicating splendid verses to the castles and gardens, which constitute the famous "golden basin" in which Palermo lies.

Today Palermo is a green city with large tree-lined avenues and vast gardens, perfect for giving the city some air on hot summer days.

Some of these gardens can be visited by booking the Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour 24-hour Ticket, such as the Botanical Garden, the English Garden, Villa Malfitano and the wonderful Zisa Castle. The ticket is valid for 24 hours and allows you to get on and off the bus as many times as you want, according to the established itineraries.

© Get Your Guide / unknown author

A tour I recommend to get a general view of Palermo, and its beauties is the Art and Architecture Walking Tour, which includes a 4-hour guided tour for small groups, to discover the main monuments of Palermo, such as the Cathedral and the Teatro Massimo.

If, on the other hand, you want to combine the historical-artistic part with the "pleasant" one, you can book a Street Food and Local Market Tasting Tour, which includes a guided walking tour through the streets of the historic centre and in the historic markets, the tasting of 7 Palermo street food specialities and two drinks.

© Get Your Guide / unknown autor

By living these experiences, you will have experienced Palermo like a local and have discovered a different side of the city, getting to know Palermo and its beautiful historic gardens.

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