A Chamber of Wonders in Ballarò

They now call it the chamber of wonders, but it was just one of the countless rooms, one identical to all the others, in need of a fresh coat of paint when all of a sudden something strange came out. It was blue paint, not the usual blue you can think of, but a deep nuance of blue that was lurking from the scratched surface of the scraped wall. And there was more: scraping the upper layers of aged paint the blue background revealed symbols and writing in a magnificent silver paint, and it was Arabic writing – to be precise.

The Chamber of Wonders in Palermo - Holidaysinpalermo.co.uk
(photo: Giornale di Sicilia)

It was then that the owners, journalists Valeria Giarrusso e Giuseppe Cadili, understood that the little apartment in Via Porta di Castro 239 they were in the process of renovating contained one spark of the magic of Palermo. A first survey of the decorations, along with the position of some openings of the room facing East, were screaming “Islamic” through and through. Palermo has been a powerful centre of Islamic culture during the times of the Emirate of Sicily, and even following the Norman conquest of the island. So why could this chamber not be a domestic mosque or something similar? The problem with this interpretation lies with the chronology of the building, that was erected there many centuries after the last Muslim had left Sicily after the epurations made by the emperor Frederick II.

Looking closer at the historical cues and making a bit of additional research into the features of what is now called “la Camera delle Meraviglie” (the chamber of wonders) it is quite apparent that the room, part of a 19th-century phase of the building, shares in that particular taste for the esoteric, the magical and the exotic that pervaded the whole of Europe especially after the Napoleonic campaigns (but also way before that) and the steady flux of fascinating accounts about the marvels of the Orient seen by travellers of all nationalities. This oriental vogue is apparently mixed here with another tendency that was quite widespread during the 18th century, the love for magic and the occult, along with the opening of Masonic lodges in the major cities of Europe.

One thing is certain: there is no magic formula on the walls of the Camera delle Meraviglie. The writing, probably painted by a local artist, make no sense at all in any of the languages using Arabic characters. This is a characteristic that is quite commonly found in many rooms and objects decorated “à-la-turque” (in the Turkish manner) produced since the 17th century throughout Europe.  But the magic of this chamber of wonders is that of unleashing the power on our imagination and of bringing us into the deep blue magic of the metaphysical realm.


When: Sunday, 10 am – 6 pm (last entrance 5:40)

Where: Via Porta di Castro, 239, 90134 Palermo (see map below)

How much: 5 €

Phone: +39 338 348 3372