Palermo is a city of limitless excitement and compelling contradictions. Difficult to define yet impossible to ignore, a classic city of the Mediterranean south, bold, blaring and enticing. At one time an Arab emirate and seat of a Norman kingdom, it became Europe's grandest city in the 11th century. Today, it is known more for its decrepitude than decadence.
But behind the decay, Palermo is a beautiful city with a reserve of cultural, architectural and historical wealth to rival any of Europe's great capitals. The city's role as a crossroads between East and West has resulted in an intoxicating cultural cross-fertilisation, which finds its best expression in the city's architectural mix, a fusion of Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Renaissance and baroque.
Palermo's most interesting asset, however, is its populace. Like their city, Palermitans can be a demanding lot, but you will find that they are also warm and friendly, enthusiastic consumers of life's pleasures (both simple and sophisticated) and full of energy and passion. It is they who create the different intensities on the streets.
The footpaths teem with people. Neighbours sit on their adjacent balconies and chat, while old ladies shout at young boys on their mopeds as they haul up their daily bread. Noisy, vociferous and a feast for the senses, Palermo is a place that some first-time visitors to Sicily consider avoiding. They would be missing out.