Fontana Pretoria, that gleaming monument bristling with nudes so soft and lifelike they offend the easily offended, is a symbol of Palermo and a datum point that marks the center of a grand corridor of Palermo attractions. And it wasn’t even designed for a city center—or even for Palermo. It was to go in a garden—in Florence.
Irreverently displaying their bodily perfection to the cloistered nuns of Santa Caterina monastery, the statuary, part of 644 pieces of fountain shipped from worldly Florence, came to entice the locals into calling the square upon which the fountain rests “Piazza della Vergogna” (Square of Shame).
But nakidity isn’t all the fountain has. Art has power. Art sucks you in.
Many tell us of the fountain’s amazing power. Viewers swear it seems to come to life throwing them into another dimension. As they walk past, the fountain manages to force passersby to make several turns around it, each time noticing new details, and more aspects that combined with the grace of each statue creates the distinct impression that they’re soft enough to make people want to reach out and touch them. ~ Palermo’s Pretoria Fountain — One of a Kind
I am happy to tell you it does just that. This unlikely Mélange of statuary seems to have no form. You need to enter the concentric circles to see all sides of it. There are not only nude violin players, there are animals spouting water and a fountain spiking the sky as well. It’s like a garden party in the heart of old Palermo.
What’s the point? Well, you can look forever, you can peer at each element from various positions while tourists seek the perfect selfie background (“And here we are with a woman who, oddly enough, isn’t holding her violin”). It has a different story to tell to each passer by.
Just to prove that not all the statues are of alluring young nudes, notice the texture in this b&w rendition:
The thing about the fountain is, you can spend some time here and visiting is absolutely free. The downside is that there isn’t a bar where one might sit and enjoy the tourists searching for their selfie op.
The Palermo Attractions Corridor
As we’ve mentioned, the fountain is the center of a pretty dense clot of attractions. To the north is the four corners, the quattro canti (a left turn here takes you to the cathedral and on to the Norman Palace). To the south are two fabulous Norman churches, our favorites in Palermo: Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio (fabulous 12th century mosaics executed by Byzantine craftsmen) and Chiesa di San Cataldo (1160), also with mosaics. As an added bonus, the Tourist Information is just below San Cataldo.
So, you have plenty to do in a very small area—with an option to go to the Cathedral and the Norman palace as well. This is a wonderful corner of Palermo to explore.