Sicily is a bridge where east meets west, especially in Palermo where north African and middle-eastern sensibilities blend with European ones, as illustrated by the Arab-Norman heritage of Palermo.
The Arabs were in power in Sicily from roughly 827 to 1061, and many Sicilians will tell you they are proud of the cultural and technological advances they brought to the island. When the Normans conquered the region in the 11th century, they understood the contributions of their predecessors, and smartly embraced the multi-cultural society that existed. Their adaptive approach made for one of Sicily’s most vibrant and significant eras — a Renaissance centuries before the one up north. An example of this patrimony is this seven-arched bridge that once crossed the Oreto River (now dried up or relegated to flow underground) on the south-east side of Palermo’s historic center. Known as the Ponte dell’Ammiraglio, or Admiral’s Bridge, it was built in 1113 by Roger II’s emir of emirs, George of Antioch. Today, this wonder of Arab-Norman architecture sits in a piazza encircled by the Corso dei Mille, or the Path of the Thousands, named so because it is the place where in May 1860 Garibaldi’s Red Shirts (There were thousands of them.) encountered Bourbon troops during the Risorgimento’s battle of Palermo.