A complex restoration for a contemporary new space.
A few years ago a group of professionals from Palermo came up with the idea of restoring an old building in the Sicilian capital that had been abandoned since the 1970s and fallen into ruin, and transforming it into a new space that would reflect the pinnacle of modern architectural design and offer the ideal space for holding important major events. The archaeological excavations carried out as part of the restoration were also finally revealed.
deBellini was thus created inside the 18th century Palazzo Bellini on the piazza of the same name, with magnificent views of important churches that reflect Palermo’s Arab-Norman heritage: San Cataldo and Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio (more commonly known as Chiesa della Martorana), which are now both UNESCO world heritage sites.
The building contains six Design Apartments that vary in size, layout and style of furnishing, and are all finished with careful attention to detail. They offer vastly differing experiences within a single space but come together in an exclusive, harmonious whole that combines historic features with modern convenience.
Ph. Franco Sassano
Real Teatro Bellini
The magnificent Piazza Bellini, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the location of monuments such as the church of San Cataldo, the church and convent of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria, and the side and rear walls of the Palazzo delle Aquile. In 1676 Ponzio Valguarnera, the marquis of Santa Lucia, rented out a warehouse for putting on comedy plays and farces for the benefit of the local populace.
The initiative enjoyed resounding success, and in 1726 the Valguarnera family decided to erect a proper theatre in its place, which was constructed entirely of timber with a fascia richly carved with architectural features typical of the Umbertino period, and it was inaugurated in 1742. The theatre was called the “Santa Lucia” after the family, and was used for dramas and operas, thus becoming a place frequented by the Palermo nobility and bourgeoisie.
In the early 1800s the family commissioned a restructuring of the theatre in stonework, to reflect the canons of so-called “Italian theatre”, to a design by state architect Nicolò Puglia. The theatre was built in an overall circular design, with a horse-shoe shaped auditorium and four tiers with 15 box seats above, and lavishly decorated with the work of master plasterers, gilders and painters of the time.
A new “parziaria” staircase was also constructed for access to the stage (the only feature that still survives), and passageways were refurbished linking the theatre to the house of marquess Maria Genoveffa Priveri, built of Castellamare stone with a barrel-vaulted ceiling in carved “spangalore a chiappette” and trimmed with “calce arena”, through the sweeping stairwell of the palazzo.
The theatre was inaugurated on 12 January 1809 as part of the birthday celebrations for king Ferdinando IV and was renamed “Real Teatro Carolina” in honour of Carolina of Austria, the king’s wife. It kept this name until 1860, when it was renamed in honour of the famous Catanian musician Vincenzo Bellini.
Following the inauguration of the Teatro Massimo in 1897, the Bellini theatre fell into a period of decline and was used for a number of different purposes. A fire on 16 March 1964 left it almost totally devastated, and after a number of major restoration and refurbishment projects it was restored to its former dignity as a theatre. It was later used as a radio broadcasting station, and finally abandoned once again. It was only in 2010, on the discovery of the remains of some Punic walls, that interest in restoring the theatre was once again revived with the local authority and investors.
The current owners have strived with great passion and commitment to restore Palazzo Bellini to its original superb “theatre” status that everyone can enjoy.
The modern apartments created inside the building, with the stupendous glimpses of Palermo’s Arab-Norman heritage that they afford, alongside the contrasting historic nature of the building and its surviving features, come together to form an unrivalled whole.