Quattro Canti
Top Sites to see in Palermo

Palermo’s famous Quattro Canti (Plaza of Four Corners) reflects the past glory of Sicily’s Royal capital and historical importance of the intersection of its two main streets….

      Quattro Canti (Four Corners) is the beautiful baroque plaza in the heart of the old Palermo located at the intersection of two main streets:  Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda.

     What makes this piazza so special is not only the stunning beauty of an early Sicilian Baroque, and its artistic metaphorism but also the history of intersecting roads.  

Corso Vittorio Emanuele has traces going back to Phoenician times when it was a main track connecting the harbor with an inland fortress located on the small hill about one mile from the sea.  It gained importance during Arabs’ domination as a road leading to the fortified castle built on the footprints of an earlier Punic fortress.  At that time the tract also gained the name - Cassaro coming from Arabic “al-Qasr” (“castle”).  

One of four facades making the famous Quattro Canti.

West Corner - The statue on the first level represents the summer (sculptor Gregorio Tedeschi). On the second level is the statue of Felipe III of Spain (1578-1621), (sculptor Carlo D'Aprile) and, on the third level is the statue of Santa Ninfa (St. Nymph).

Old Palermo with visible intersection of two main streets where today you can admire the piazza Quattro Canti 

Note: there is no HR copy of this picture

      During Norman and especially Spanish rules, Cassaro was enlarged and architecturally “beautified” reflecting its importance. Indeed, Cassaro became a Royal Road connecting the port with the complex of the Royal Palace built on the structure of  the old Arab Castle.  The tract was starting from the Porta Felice and ending near the Royal Palace at the magnificent Porta Nuova.  Only after the unification of Italy the name Cassaro was changed to Vittorio Emanuele, but not surprisingly the old name still “resonates” with Palermitans.

In contrast, Via Maqueda  (named after the Viceroy of Sicily, Don Bernardino de Cardenas -Duke of Maqueda) is a much younger sister of Cassaro, taking shape at the end of 16th century.  Via Maqueda cut Cassaro in the middle of its length between Porta Felice and Porta Nuova dividing the old city into four “quadrants”.  The road was created to open new areas for rapidly expanding city. Impressive palaces, churches and plazas soon filled the space giving new life to the old crumbling quarters. Today the area of Quattro Canti with Churches St. Joseph of Teatini and St. Catherine, Piazza Pretoria with its famous Fountain, Piazza Bellini, Palazzo Senatorio and old medieval churches of San Cataldo and Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio makes the most prestigious part of the old Palermo. 

       Construction of the plaza of the Four Corners was part of the plan to bring back to Palermo the glory and prestige of the Royal City as expected for the seat of the Spanish Government represented by the Viceroy. The works were carried out in early 1600’s by an Italian architect Giulio Lasso. Despite the name “Four Corners” the piazza is actually a corner-less “octagonal-circle” with four sides defined by the streets and remaining four by rounded baroque-style facades. 

West Corner: Sculpture of Santa Ninfa (St. Nymph)

North Corner: It is dedicated to the Commandment of the Loggia and its patron Santa Oliva (sculpted by Carlo D'aprile)

East Corner: It belongs to the Kalsa Command and its patron saint Santa Agata (sculpted by Carlo D'aprile)

      Architectonically, all four facades are very similar – each consists of four levels with the fountain at the ground level. The second level – just above the fountain is dedicated to four seasons (starting from East): winter, spring, summer and fall. They seem to be “shifted” by one season compared to the geographical directions (most of us will expect that Winter should be associated with North, Spring with East and so forth, but obviously it is not the case once again proving that artistic vision does not have to reflect reality….

Although it may be difficult to prove, some believe that in Lasso’s vision the fountains represented four local rivers: Oreto, Kemonia, Pannaria and Papireto that once upon the time were cutting through the ancient city of Panoramus (Greek’s name for Palermo). Given the fact that today only Oreto is still flowing through Palermo while waters of the remaining rivers are carried by underground canals, the symbolism of the Quattro Canti is even more visible. 

West Corner: Statue represents the Summer (sculptor Gregorio Tedeschi).

West Corner: Behind it is the Palazzo Rudinì. The statue of Philip III of Spain (1578-1621) was  sculpted by Carlo D'aprile. Above on the 3rd level the statue of Santa Ninfa

     Each season is personified by a statue of mythological gods correspondingly: Eolo (god of wind), Venus (goddess of love, beauty, fertility, desire…), Ceres (goddess of agriculture) and Bachus (god of harvest “focused” on grapes). It is not difficult to associate them with the seasons of Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall (Autumn).

The recessed niches on the third floor are dedicated to Spanish kings displaying the statues of (correspondingly from the East Side): Philip 3rd, Charles 5th, Philip 2nd and Philip 4th. 

The fourth level is assigned to the patronesses of Palermo, correspondingly St. Agatha of Catania, St. Christina of Bolsena, St. Ninfa (St. Nympha)  and St. Olivia of Palermo – one for each part of the city. Some may be surprised that at such prestigious piazza there is no place for Santa Rosalia – so greatly venerated in Palermo. But the reason is simple – the construction of the piazza Quattro Canti was finished in 1620, while St. Rosalia was declared the Patroness of Palermo after the plague of 1624, when as many believe, after her remains were carried around the city, the plague miraculously ceased.

Street lamps match the beauty of Four Corners' facades

The statues are work of local artists: Carlo d’Aprile, Nunzio la Mattina and Gregorio Tedeschi and are dating from the late 17th century.

All facades are topped by the large coat of arms of Spanish Royals flanked by those representing Spanish Viceroys governing the island and Palermo’s Senate. 

    Although experts are claiming that Giulio Lasso was heavily “borrowing” ideas from Rome’s Piazza delle Quattro Fontane, the fact is that artistically, Palermo’s Quattro Canti is one of the best examples of an early Sicilian Baroque with strong and unique local flavors. It is also one of the earliest examples of modern urban planning! So let’s inhabitants of Rome have their own ideas and let’s Palermitans and visitors enjoy this masterpiece of architecture, art and symbolism.  In fact, Quattro Canti gained the highest level of approval in our Solar System (see below). 

It’s interesting that the official name of the place is Piazza Vigliena, so do not be confused looking at the Google maps. But sometimes the piazza is also called the “Sun’s Theater” (Teatro del Sole) reflecting the fact that during sunny days at least one of the magnificent facades is bathed in sunlight. Seems like the baroque “scenery” is the favorite Sun’s Performing Stage! 

Two corners: North and East

East and South Corners (behind the Church of St. Giuseppe dei Teatini)

      It's difficult to say how much time you may need to fully appreciate the Piazza Quattro Canti. It is a matter of individual needs. What is sure is that all the beauty is in front of you....... Some after spending few minutes may leave the place with few pictures in the camera, some may stay longer trying to feel the space, others will pay attention to details..... But certainly you will not walk away without carrying with you a deep admiration for the place. 

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