The tower of San Nicolò all’Albergaria, in Cagliostro’s district
The tower of San Nicolò, in the city center of Palermo, was built in the 14th century and later annexed to the medieval church of the same name. It was originally a watchtower, and one of the city’s tallest, meant to defend the Cassaro Walls – named after the ancient road that used to run along a (now buried) torrent, the Kemonia. A maritime station was active in the area.
The Tower of San Nicolò rises at the heart of the Albergaria district, which Palermo-born anthropologist Giuseppe Pitrè (1841-1916) vividly described as “a labyrinth of narrow little roads, tortuous meanders that curl and wrap around, doors that lead to unknown, smelly alleys, and burrows where human beings often teem like worms.”
In his 1904 book, Pitrè paints the picture of life in Palermo in the early 1800s, adding elements of literary fiction – such as when he invites the reader, upon visiting the Albergaria district, to “look at the window where a young Giuseppe Balsamo, the future Count of Cagliostro, paused; and from where his mother and sister welcomed W. Goethe, who had come to meet them and gather information about the famous impostor’s childhood…” (translated from G. Pitrè, “La vita in Palermo cento e più anni fa”, Palermo 1904).