The Ballarò market is within walking distance, as are the Cathedral, the Royal Palace, the church, and the convent of Casa Professa. It is easy to imagine how the Counts Federico in the past left their palace in a carriage to reach the Corso or the Marina, and the crowd of servants and postulants that must have been inside and outside the palace on any Palermo morning.
When I arrive, however, the area around Palazzo Federico is very quiet. It is afternoon and the market is over. Only a lapino (a tiny Piaggio Ape) loaded with fruit and vegetables passes me, on the small piazza Federico. When I ring the bell, the door opens silently and reveals a courtyard with a shiny vintage car, and then the smiling silhouette of Countess Alwine Federico.
Palazzo Federico is one of the oldest noble residences in Palermo and is also one of the few to be still permanently inhabited by the heirs of the first owners, descendants of Frederick of Antiochia, son of Emperor Frederick II. It has never passed into other hands since it was built, in the Middle Ages, close to the Torre di Scrigno, one of the Arab-Norman towers that once marked the walls that surrounded the city. From here the passage through the Busuemi Gate was controlled, in turn, one of the first four access gates opened in the walls when Palermo was still a Phoenician colony.
The visit to the tower with the ancient coats of arms of the lords of the city and the two mullioned windows (one coeval with the building, the other Aragonese) is part of the guided tour that can be done together with the owners. In fact, Palazzo Federico can be visited regularly with an entrance ticket and the experience is a must.
The rooms of the first floor, which are accessed by a red marble staircase, are arranged around the internal courtyard, decorated with carved stones on a design by the architect Venanzio Marvuglia.
Each room has a name that identifies it.There is the Blue Room, with its magnificent wooden ceiling and refined cobalt blue tapestries. The Arms Room which takes its name from the collection of swords, pistols, rifles and armors (many cups are also on display, won by the count Federico by participating in the Targa Florio, a sporting activity of which he is very proud), and the Marvuglia Room with the small gilded alcove, the original furnishings of the fifteenth century and, on the walls, the coats of arms of the families with which the Federicos have related over the centuries through marriages.
You’ll visit the Green Room and the Red Room, frescoed by Vito d’Anna, and the Garibaldi Room which preserves the memory of the Hero of the Two Worlds. Garibaldi’s visit to the palace dates back to 1862 when he was appointed President of the Supreme Council of Freemasonry by the Masons who had gathered in Palermo.
At that time, the palace was the main lodge in southern Italy and also welcomed other illustrious Freemasons, such as Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner (who obviously performed at the piano, still owned by the family). The ceremony took place in the Gallery, beneath the splendid fresco of the vault, where Gaspare Serenario, among Virtues and other allegories, painted Masonic symbols (actually present in other spaces too: you just have to look for them).
This is not the only story that the Federicos will tell you, just as the fresco is not the only work of art that they will show you. There are the precious furnishings, the wrought iron chandelier that once illuminated a room of the Norman castle of Maredolce, the Madonna of the Sienese school of the fifteenth century, the crib shepherds by the sculptor Matera and much more, including a precious fragment of wall decoration of the 17th century. It was discovered during the restoration of the tower, and it shines in bright colors as if the painter has just finished.
In the tower, there is also a beautiful old kitchen, which is used when, for example, friends come to visit. Palazzo Federico, in fact, is also a real home for Count Alessandro, his wife, and two children, Niccolò and Andrea.
Unfortunately, the Palazzo is closed at the moment, due to the anti-Covid 19 restrictions, but it will open again as soon as possible. Those who don’t want to leave it can book a stay in one of the mini-apartments recently realized in a part of the building. They are modern but don’t lack aristocratic glam.