© Cover picture: Russell James Smith
© Cover picture: Russell James Smith

Piazzas in Italy: Piazza Pretoria, Palermo

2 minutes to read

Do you remember the photographs where clothes are hanging on a string among two buildings that together form a narrow street? Even if these photos are not signed with a location, they are in fact highly associated with Italy. Being able to expose something personal, like the hanging clothes on a public space (the street) is a cultural thing, most common in the Mediterranean cities. This is the secret of the Italian squares and why they're so different, much cosier and much more respected than others. A Piazza or the “place to be” in every big or small Italian town or city, emphasises the private lingering spaces within; from an outdoor dining area to a local coffeehouse or pub around the corner. The piazza can be considered as a "third place" or a "place between". The squares that are not ‘piazzas’ tend to feature more corporate or larger public venues.

© Photo: Giuseppe Incorpora

How to recognise a piazza? By definition, every empty space defined by dense positioned buildings in the Mediterranean region can be called a piazza. Very often, on the piazzas open markets, concerts, and gatherings are being held. Some of those piazzas can be also defined by a church, and it’s often the case that a fountain is being placed at the middle of them. While designing public spaces, water is used to symbolise and represent the fruitfulness of the place, and at the same time as a way to regulate the climate if that place is very warm. One beautiful piazza in Palermo, the Piazza Pretoria is hosting a beautiful fountain with an unusual story behind it.

The Fontana Pretoria is composed of nude statues. The fountain depicts the Twelve Olympians, other mythological figures, animals, and the rivers of Palermo. It was assembled in the 16th century and it is very similar to the Victor in Belgrade and Poseidon in Skopje. This fountain was in fact an opportunity where the only recorded case of Italians protesting against nudity took place. The story went so far that the Palermans renamed this piazza as the "Piazza della Vergona" which translates to "Piazza of shame". Today, this fountain is one of the prettiest in Italy, and especially during the night when it's lighted up!

© Photo: Bjs

While you’re on this square, don't miss to visit the Palazzo Pretorio or Palace of the Eagles. The current "Renaissance Revival-Neoclassical" appearance was achieved in 1875, and its construction started in the year of 1463. Again, the real beauty takes time, like a good italian wine.


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The author

Zlata Golaboska

Zlata Golaboska

I am Zlata and I am an architect living in the Balkans. I am passionate about cities, how people influence architecture and vice versa, and how places change our lives.

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