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Palermo is like no other Italian city, with its lively interaction of past and present generating a colourful vibrancy. The city was founded as a Phoenician trading post in the eighth century BC, but following the Punic Wars in BC, it was brought under Roman control, later becoming part of the Byzantine Empire until This potted history is necessary to explain the mixture of architecture and cultural diversity that can still be seen today in a place where, as D.
Like most great maritime cities, Palermo is best approached from the sea, from where you see the palm-fringed city etched on the skyline between Monte Pellegrino and Monte Catalfano.
The worst approach is by car, as you will find the traffic difficult and parking harder still. Closer to Africa than Rome, the old town of Palermo was once one of the finest cities in Europe, full of grand palaces, ornate churches and other attractions. It is both concerning and appealing that many of these fine buildings are shabby or even virtually derelict.
However, the crumbling balconies decorated with washing and the unfamiliar cooking smells wafting from the windows betray the fact that they are still occupied. Palermo has not tried to streamline its image to appeal to mass tourism and, following severe damage during the Second World War, few attempts have even been made to restore these places.
The grim modern blocks of flats in the suburbs do not help to dispel the scruffy image. However, the place is also noisy and crowded, the poverty in some areas is disquieting, the accent and harsh Sicilian dialect hard to follow and, above all, Palermo has a reputation for crime although you are unlikely to find trouble as long as you are wary of pickpockets. It is true that the Sicilian Mafia still wield power in such areas as protection rackets, drugs and prostitution and are blamed for the deliberate neglect of the old city centre.