Palazzo Branciforte was built at the end of the 1500s as an aristocratic residence, but by the beginning of the 19th century part of it had become home to Palermo’s Monte dei Pegni (pawnshop), filling up with “non-precious goods”, silk and linens, simple copper and bronze objects. Palermitani affectionately called that part of the palace “Monte di Santa Rosalia” or “Panni Vecchi” (literally, “old cloth”).
Entering the breathtaking wooden structure – where balconies, shelving, staircases and hardwood floors climb unrestrained, recalling for a moment Escher’s paradoxical “Relativity” stairs – one is reminded of the words of Guy De Maupassant on Sicily: “But what makes it so unique in this world and so necessary to visit, is the fact that from one end to the other, it can be defined as a strange and divine museum of architecture.”
Today the Palace, renovated by architect and designer Gae Aulenti and re-opened to the public in 2012, has transformed into a renown cultural hub, with a display of thousands of archeological finds, coin and stamp collections, maiolicas from the 1600s and 1700s, sculptures and frescos by prominent artists of the 19th and 20th century, and a library of some 500 thousand books.
Not to mention the Gambero Rosso Cooking school, and the restaurant.
A slice of Sicily that is “unique in this world and so necessary to visit”.