The area with the plain and the surrounding mountains has been inhabited since prehistoric times. On the northeast side of Monte Pellegrino, several caves that were inhabited during the Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods open up, as is known from the finds of bones and hunting tools. In the Addaura Cave on Monte Pellegrino, a large and richly composed cave painting depicting men and animals has also been found. In the middle of a herd of cattle, horses, wild animals and deer, a scene dominated by a group of people placed in a circle takes place. Inside the center of the circle are two figures that have their heads covered and their bodies strongly curved backwards. Various hypotheses have been put forward for interpreting the motif. Some scholars consider the two individuals as acrobats in the process of performing their artist. Others describe the scene as a ritual, which precedes the sacrifice of the two in the middle. Near the two “acrobats” are two masked people who can be perceived as spirit manners who control the ceremony. To reinforce this interpretation, there are around the neck and on the sides of the curved persons some lines that can imagine ropes forcing them out into this unnatural and painful position. Perhaps it is a ritual leading to suffocation, which is known from other cultures. To begin with, the area was a trading post for northwestern Sicily. It gained great importance for trade due to its location in the middle of the Mediterranean and the large, protected port area created by the two rivers Kemonia and Papireto. The city itself was founded by the Phoenicians around the 8th century BC. From this period, coins with the name Zyz have been found, which in Phoenician means “flower”. It is believed that this was the name of the Phoenicians for the city. The shape of the city resembled a foot and it was therefore also nicknamed the Phoenician Foot.
The Greeks called the city Panormos, which means “whole port” and probably refers to the huge, natural landing place. Greek culture had a great influence on the island, so although the Greeks never succeeded in gaining control of this city, it became their name for the city that went down in history. When the Romans, after a long siege, succeeded in wrestling the city from the Phoenician general Amilcare Barca, they retained the Greek name with a slight modification in the pronunciation of Panormus.
It became a turning point when the Arabs arrived, for they made the city the capital. The Arabs also adapted the name to their own pronunciation, which became Balarm. Traces of the Arab civilization are found in place names and architectural details, but not much is there, for the later inveterate Christians it all. The Arab Iben Haukal writes in the 10th century that there were more than 300 mosques in Palermo; but there is no trace of this and it is believed that this may be due to the fact that the mosques have been housed in buildings that have both before and since found other uses. Internal strife between the Arabs paved the way for the Normans who seized power in 1071. The Normans also preferred Palermo as their capital. It was they who gave the city its final name: Palermo. From that time magnificent buildings such as the churches of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio have been preserved, Martorana and Cappella Palatina. After the Normans, a period of decline began for Palermo. It culminated in 1266, when the kingdom, which at the time also included southern Italy, chose to have the capital of Naples. When Garibaldi took over the city in 1860, several magnificent buildings were destroyed during the fighting; but to celebrate the unification of Italy, it was decided to build other architectural works, including the theaters Massimo and Politeama.
During World War I, Palermo was not particularly involved in the conflict. In return, due to the important port, it was made the target of the Allied bombing during World War II. Palermo was occupied by the Allies in 1943 under the command of US General Patton. Due to great poverty and discouragement after the war, some districts still bear the mark of the bombings. In recent years, however, many reconstructions have been initiated, so that today the districts are more characterized by large cranes than by ruins. After the war, poverty and the fight against the mafia have been what have characterized Palermo the most. To this day, Palermo has expanded more than any other Italian city. This has been promoted by the motorways connecting it with the rest of the island, and with the airport. As a trade center, it is not only the island’s most important, but is also of great importance to all Mediterranean countries. Palermo is in fact a candidate to be named the capital of Southern Europe in 2010.