The complex of the Norman Palace we see today is the result of a continuous process of building, demolition and superimposition of architectural styles that has been going on for around two thousand five hundred years.
This introduction is intended just to give a brief description of the building’s main evolutionary phases. A more detailed account of the Palace’s history can be found in numerous books and pamphlets written over the years by both Italian and foreign scholars.
The Norman Palace (known to many as the Royal Palace) is situated in an area that, in the 6th Century BC, was chosen by the Carthaginians (originally from Libya and famous for founding the city of Carthage in Tunisia) as an important commercial base for maritime trade.
As such the area became the first nucleus of what is now the city of Palermo (the name derives from the Greek Panormos, meaning “all port”), as can be seen from the extensive remains of walls that have recently been discovered. Indeed, these walls, which were reinforced during the Punic Wars, have shed new light on the ancient history of the whole city.
From the various stratifications and thicknesses of the walls (which are up to 8 metres thick), we can assume that in the following centuries, during which the Romans, the Byzantines and the Arabs all came and went, the original defensive structure underwent numerous modifications.
In particular, during the first half of the 9th Century AD, Palermo was conquered by the Arabs (Aghlabiti) from North Africa who built a fortress on the pre-existing structure. The Arabic term for fortress, Qasr, became Italianised to Cassaro and still today it is the street of this name that links the city to the sea on an East-West axis, and the Palace thus protected the town to the west. Another castle to the east was planned so as to defend the city from the sea, the “Castello a Mare”.