The hanging gardens of Palermo’s Royal Palace: the power of beauty
There are records of the hanging gardens of Palermo’s Palace of the Normans (or Royal Palace) dating as far back as the 12th century, at a time when the city unfailingly impressed visitors with its rich orchards and verdant parks.
Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi (1099-1165) appreciated the water show “crossing the capital city of Sicily from all sides, including also some perennial springs. Palermo has an abundance of fruit trees […] and within the walls is a triumph of orchards, magnificent villas, and so many fresh courses of water, led into channels from the mountains…”.
Amidst these wonders, the hanging gardens of the Palace of the Normans – a lavish treasure chest of cacti, water lilies, bitter oranges and plumelias – were a precious pearl hidden in the city “that is proud of its squares and planes”, as Arab-Andalusian poet Ibn Jubayr wrote after visiting Palermo around 1185. “The king’s palaces decorate its neck like beautiful gems around the necks of buxom girls”.
Indeed, the Arab-Norman city flourished with large parks; many enclosed aristocratic gardens within them, where the powerful expressed their magnificence with pleasure pavilions, canals, lakes and orchards.
“Norman kings surrounded Palermo with gardens for the same reason gardens emerged in the Middle Ages in all Islamic capital cities: they were aware of how strong and powerful they appeared, bending nature to satisfy their desire for pleasure and luxury” (translated from M. Leone, F. Lo Piccolo, F. Schilleci, “Il paesaggio agricolo nella Conca d’Oro di Palermo”, Alinea, Florence 2009).