"Palermo City of Kings" Review

Feb 25, 2022 341

BY: Mark Spano

“The Old Man” or the Genius of Palermo appears in pictures, statues, and bas-reliefs all around Palermo appears also on the dust jacket cover of Jeremy Dummett’s new book on the Capital City of Sicily. Dummett goes on to tell us that this bearded man, wearing a crown and holding a serpent to his chest, “represents fertility and the creative life force, sexual desire, the spirit of the dead and renewal.”

This Genius is the personification of Palermo, and in Palermo, The City of Kings: The Heart of Sicily, the author relates in his two-part narrative a biographical portrait of the city and then points out the landscape and the very stones of the ancient capital that exude three-thousand years of history. The story is a conflux of European, Asian, and African aspirations to own Sicily and command the Mediterranean Sea.  

What makes this book important is the author’s focus on a specific place. Much of this history is known. It is, though, Drummett’s manifest passion for place that identifies historical narrative, landscape, art, architecture, and persons to create a more complete picture of one of the most mysterious and misunderstood cities in the world.

Leoluca Orlando longtime Mayor of Palermo, said that in his city, “the dog, the cat, and the mouse walk together.” This has been so since the earliest times in Palermo’s history. As a boy, Fredrick II, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and King of Sicily, wandered the streets like a commoner. Palermo was then large enough to be a capital city yet small enough to be an aggravation of neighborhoods, each with its own ethnicity and religion. Palermo was the pioneer city for diverse communities coexisting. This was not a choice based on political will but a necessity based on the yearnings for empire visited upon the island’s peoples by an epic list of would-be conquerors. Yet, somehow, Palermo would not be wholly subdued.

Drummett relates to us, Few cities have experienced such extremes of fortune as Palermo. Few cities have paid so much in the blood of their citizens in the fight for freedom and justice. Few cities have show such resilience and such a strong spirit of survival.

From the Phoenicians to the Mafia Maxi-Trials from the late 1980s and early 1990s, Palermo endures. Oddly over three thousand years, some things have not changed. There still exists a will to power and the friction of diverse peoples trying to live together. Jeremy Drummett beautifully demonstrates that the history of Palermo, The City of Kings is also a story of flesh and blood human beings who have persisted and will continue to persist in the face of tremendous challenges. 

“The Genius is… a mythical, pagan figure who personifies Palermo, linked to ancient gods.” Jeremy Dummett, Palermo, The City of Kings: The Heart of Sicily. 

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