Palermo, “The Golden City” on display: furnishings, clothes and accessories tell how we were a hundred years ago

Furnishings, clothes and accessories kept in public and private buildings from the 1920s and 1930s, but also explanatory panels and historical films on display in Palermo. In the complex of the Albergo delle Povere, in Corso Calatafimi 217, the exhibition itinerary will be inaugurated this afternoon, at 5 pm “The Golden City. Urban planning and architecture in Palermo in the Thirties”organized by the Sicilian Region and curated by the Superintendency of Cultural Heritage of Palermo led by Selima Julianat the end of the cycle started in Catania at the end of 2019.

The research project, divided into several stages, developed through a sequence of exhibitions entrusted to the Superintendencies of the nine provinces with the coordination of the regional department of cultural heritage and the collaboration of the tourism department. A great job that had a unique conceptcreated through explanatory panels and three-dimensional reconstructions generally entrusted to universities and local institutions.

“An exhibition that tells us, through furnishings, clothes and accessories, but not only that, a little of how we were almost a hundred years ago in a difficult historical phase, but capable of creating important works that are still clearly visible in our cities – he says the president of the Sicilian Region Renato Schifani -. It is a great research work carried out by various institutional actors, including the Italian Post Office, but ample credit goes to the cultural superintendencies of our island, starting with that of Palermo which carried out the project. I believe I can say that it is one of the most beautiful exhibitions promoted this year by our Region as evidence of the fact that the promotion of culture and our cultural assets are a cornerstone of this government”.

«A very interesting project is concluded – he underlines Elvira Beloved, regional councilor for cultural heritage and Sicilian identity – through which the councilorship thoroughly examined a period particularly rich in cultural ferment and constructive interventions carried out in an atmosphere of great rebirth and intense production. A wide-ranging operation that has allowed us to carry out a survey of the transformations that took place in the urban and architectural fabric of the island in the period between the two wars, highlighting how the creation of the most modern infrastructural networks and new types is linked to that phase buildings, such as railway stations, government and educational buildings, postal buildings, banks, sports facilities, council and residential housing”.

The Palermo exhibition consists of two moments: one in which the local architectural production expands with the most salient expressions from other cities; a second, totally new, in which new and precious elements relating to the furnishings of the time, to fashion and customs are exhibited (see sheet below).

«At the Albergo delle Povere, together with a selection of everything that was exhibited in the previous stages – explains the superintendent Selima Julian – a part of Palermitan architecture is proposed, with a particular cut towards the society of those years. For this reason, we have included some restricted collections in the itinerary: one by Raffaello Piraino, who is a collector of period costumes that we deal with; another is that of Ernesto Savona, owner of an important Palermo house comparable in Italy only to Villa Necchi and which embodies all the style of that period. The architect Gino Morici takes care not only of the external architectural aspect, but above all of the details».

Poste Italiane contributed to the exhibition by participating with its artistic and architectural heritage from its historic rationalist building in via Roma in Palermo, a jewel of futurism. «With great satisfaction – he declares Ariadne La Sala, building manager Sicily area – Poste Italiane collaborated with the Superintendency for Cultural Heritage for the preparation of this splendid exhibition space. Thanks to everyone’s synergy and effort, we are proud to make some of the treasures kept in our historic building in via Roma accessible to the citizens who come to visit the exhibition, a way of confirming the indissoluble link between the company’s architectural and artistic heritage and the history of the country.

The exhibition will remain open to the public free of charge – Tuesday to Saturday from 9 to 18, Sunday from 9 to 13 – until 25 January 2023.



The preparation of the exhibition is curated by the architect Laura Galvano and by Ermanno Cacciatore of the regional department of Tourism, based on a project by the Superintendency of Palermo.

The main nucleus is represented by the important collaboration with the Central Directorate of Italian post. There are numerous historical and artistic assets that Poste Italiane has made available, among which some furnishings by the renowned Ducrot company stand out, such as leather armchairs, chairs and stools from the splendid conference room. The images of the canvases painted by Benedetta Cappa Marinetti help to recreate the period setting, which interpret the themes of communication and transport in a futuristic style. Furthermore, a precious telegraph kindly lent by the collector Salvatore Calderone, a bike and a leather bag of the time tell an important piece of the company’s 160-year history.

It was then decided to reconstruct, through the exhibition of the furnishings, the internal environments of Savona housea representative private residence of the time which is located in the phase of greatest expansion of the Decoalso called 1925 style because of the Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernis held in Paris that year. The design of the apartment is entirely curated by Gino Morici, who extensively qualifies both the furnishings and the decorations which become a unicum, an indissoluble bond between architecture and design in all environments. For these reasons, the house, together with the furnishings that compose it, was declared of cultural interest in 2018, as it is of particular importance from a historical-artistic and monumental point of view, as one of the few examples of the Deco in Palermo.

Two rooms of the exhibition are dedicated to the collection of clothes and accessories by Raffaello Piraino. The precious objects, also declared of cultural interest in 2015, tell a cross-section of 1930s fashion.

Among the exhibits a door that decorated an interior of the ENAC officers’ club (ex Villa Natoli) at the first Palermo airport in Boccadifalco and which recalls, in the wooden inlay decorations, the Palazzo delle Poste and Casa Savona.

In the vast building production of the twenties and thirties of the twentieth century, derived for the most part from the state modernization program on a national scale, Palermo fits with imposing public and functional buildings (schools, kindergartens, hospitals), representative buildings of large private clients public housing complexes.

In the first post-war years, new public buildings were built to fill the gaps in the historic building fabric generated by the “thinning out” urban planning policy. The public competition announced in 1922 for the construction of the monumental entrance to via Roma, in this sense, is exemplary of the attempt to reconfigure the urban plot made starting from the 1920s, between investments in services for the community and the representative will of the administration publish.

Concentrated in the ancient city, where commercial and managerial centrality remained, the Superintendency for Public Works, the Fire Brigade Barracks, the House of the Mutilated, the Railways Building, the Post and Telegraph Building, the prestigious new offices were built of the Bank of Italy and the Banco di Sicilia. In constant dialogue with architecture is the presence of figurative art, considered essential in the realization of official building: frescoes, mosaics, bas-reliefs, defined as “mural painting” by Mario Sironi, in the Palermitan buildings are commissioned to the artists Gino Morici, Alfonso Amorelli, Antonio Giuseppe Santagata, Antonio Ugo, Benedetto De Lisi, Archimede Campini, Nino Geraci, Domenico Li Muli, Giovanni Rosone, Filippo Sgarlata.

The mass of public works completed also includes the numerous school buildings spread throughout the metropolitan area, both in the districts and in the villages, the university institutes in via Archirafi, the new municipal slaughterhouse, the Littorio stadium in the Favorita park, the of Boccadifalco, the port arrangement with the new piers and the maritime station, the health facilities of the General Hospital and the Civic Hospital, the Guadagna isolation hospital, the Ingrassia sanatorium, the childcare facilities Home of the mother and child, the Molo anti-tuberculosis dispensary, as well as the modernization of the road, water, sewage and public lighting systems.

Substantial state funding also supports the construction program of the autonomous public housing institute of Palermo. The models adopted for the new residential settlements are both of the intensive type, with multi-storey block buildings, and of the extensive type, with “small houses” made up of several apartments and a garden or “rural houses” with a vegetable garden. In this context, the project of the Quartiere del Littorio (today Matteotti) stands out, conceived as the first nucleus of a garden city of Howardian inspiration, erected in the northern expansion area along the prestigious via della Libertà.

In the extra-urban context, the foundation of the rural villages Schirò and Borzellino takes place in the Monreale area which, albeit in their limited dimensions, represent urban utopias with an intrinsic historical architectural value.

The protagonists of the “new architecture” are professionals and academics belonging to the “Palermo school” of Ernesto Basile, such as Salvatore Caronia Roberti, Giuseppe Capitò, Luigi Epifanio, Salvatore Cardella, Giovan Battista Santangelo, Pietro Scibilia, Giuseppe Spatrisano, Giuseppe Vittorio Ugo. All exponents of the Sicilian architectural culture who, in the debate of those years between traditional modernism, rationalist innovation and Mediterranean spirit, determined the definitive transition to the modern with their production. To the Sicilian names must be added the Bolognese Angiolo Mazzoni, architect of the Ministry of Communications, author of the monumental Palazzo delle Poste, in which the artistic decoration has the sophisticated touch of Paolo Bevilacqua and the surrealist one of Benedetta Cappa Marinetti.

Palermo, “The Golden City” on display: furnishings, clothes and accessories tell how we were a hundred years ago