Villa Giulia is the oldest public park in Palermo – now not only an oasis of Mother Nature in the heart of Palermo, but also a center of musical concerts and an open, under the sky art gallery...
For visitors, the name “Villa Giulia” may be a bit confusing, so let’s make it clear – it is the public park in Palermo.
When opened on June 11th, 1778 it was actually the first public park in Sicily! Originally located at the outskirts of the old city near the sea, today it borders the busy area at the corner of the Foro Italico and Lincoln Street facing on the south the Botanic Garden - its “younger brother” created some 20 years later.
The park was designed by the Sicilian architect Nicolo Palma. It received its “poetically” sounding name after the Princess Giulia d’Avalos Guevara - wife of the Spanish Viceroy Marc Antonio Colonna who ruled Sicily from 1775 to 1781. Sometimes the park is also called equally “gently” - Villa Flora).
Villa Giulia: Diogenes
I's a large park - an oasis of nature in the heart of Palermo
.... and an ideal place for small musical performances
The park has a form of the perfect square with highly symmetrical design consisting of four main alleys intersecting at 45 degrees, four diagonal alleys and the circular open space in the center. Originally, four entrance gates were located at the center of each side with the most important one opening towards the sea (today facing the avenue Foro Italico). Now only one gate is open providing the access to the park from the Lincoln Street.
In a way, the park Villa Giulia was “restoring” an old tradition going back to the Arabs domination of Sicily when a large “Geonardo Gardens” (from Arabic Jannat-al-Ard meaning “Heaven on Earth”) were spreading at the southern outskirts of Palermo. While the park Villa Giulia was much smaller than the Geonardo, it did not lack its splendor. In fact, designed for local nobility rather than “common Palermitans”, the park was an open art gallery displaying works of renowned Italian sculptures.
In the center piazza there is a fountain with the mythological god Atlas holding a huge dodecahedron solar clock. (Dodecahedron is a geometrical structure belonging to the class known as “Polyhedron” having twelve identical pentagonal faces). The statue of the mythological god Atlas is the work of Ignazio Marabitti (1784), while the solar clock was created by the local mathematician Lorenzo Federici (1784).
In fact, artist’s vision of Atlas (Titan in the Roman mythology) holding the clock (in other words “time”) is just striking with its symbolism. The “time” represents an “ongoing (passing) life” and certainly quite often we felt its unbearable “heaviness”…..
Old Entrance gate linking the Villa Giulia with the Botanic Garden
Genius of Palermo
Near the old entrance to the Botanic Garden there is a little area dotted with several marble statues. The most notable is the “Genius of Palermo” (Il Genio) – a mysterious deified personage with roots most likely dating back to the times of Punic wars waged by Scipio “Africanus” against Hannibal. It’s a statue of an old crowned man, sitting on a rock dominating the little fountain.
The whole composition includes several highly symbolic features. The sneak on his chest seems to symbolize the “Land, Water and Fertility” (what can be easily attributed to Sicilian Island). But the sneak also symbolizes the “Prudence and Knowledge” – virtues so needed by Palermitans given their constant struggles with invading powers. Although here the sneak’s head is just resting on the old man’s chest, typically it is shown as biting, clearly displaying its lethal force and a warning for enemies and traitors. The scepter hold by Genius is a symbol of monarchy (kingdom), the dog represents “Fidelity” while the eagle is a universal symbol of “Freedom, Strength and Vision” (since long the emblem of Palermo). The composition “Il Genio” is a work of Ignazio Marabitti from 1778.
Allegory of Abundance
Allegory of Glory
Allegory of Heresy
Allegory of Idleness
Allegory of Greek Schism
Allegory of Badmouthing
Allegory of Mahometanism
Surrounding the Fountain of the Genious of Palermo is the group of eight highly allegoric sculptures representing correspondingly: Abundance (L’Abbondanza by I. Marabitti 1779), Idleness ((L’Ozio by I. Marabitti 1780), Heresy (L’Eresia by I. Marabitti 1780), Mahometanism (La Maomettanesimo by I. Marabitti 1780), Greek Schism (La Scisma Greco by I. Marabitti 1780), Viciousness (Badmouthing) (La Maldicenza - 1784), Infidelity (L’Infedelta - 1784) and Glory (La Gloria by I. Marabitti 1779).
Although we may have different opinions regarding the metaphorism carried by each of them, we will all agree that the statues are first of all the beautiful pieces of art, object of art that museums will be proud to have in their collections…
Exedra (semicircular portico for small artistic performances)
Exedra - Interior decoration
The park Villa Giulia was considerably remodeled in 18660’s reflecting the growing demand for public “entertainment” accessible to common inhabitants. The most important step was marked by the construction of four semispherical structures around the central fountain (exedras). Designed by Giuseppe Damiani Almeyda in the neo-classical style, these highly decorated, topped with semi-domes “niches” were intended as stages for musicians and theatrical performances.
From that time dates a “burial” ground including memorial plaques dedicated to famous poets, philosophers, composers… It is accompanied by statues of historical persons representing ancient cultures (Diogenes, Archimedes…) and those from more modern times like composers Vincenzo Bellini, opera writers Gaetano Donizetti, Gioacchio Rossini…. to name only few. Worth to see is also the statue of a Fisherman (Il Pescatorello) located at the center of a little pond with the fountain. They are works of such Italian masters as R. Barbera, B. Civiletti, A. D’Amore, B. Delisi….
Villa Giulia - early spring flowers (in Palermo early spring means it's January)
Villa Giulia: Palm Tree
Throughout the following years the park Villa Giulia started commissioning busts of historical persons that left their “footprints” in the history of Palermo. Today some twenty busts are already lining parks’ avenues.
Park’s “green space” is a mixture of Mediterranean and exotic plants. The main avenue leading from the entrance gate to the central piazza strikes with giant palms – so tall that they seem to be reaching the sky…. Other species include cypresses, pines, oaks….. as well as all kind of shrubs and flowers. Park also houses little aviary with some exotic species of birds, certainly enjoyed by our little loved-ones: children.
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