For much of the 17th and 18th century, Palermo’s aristocracy built summer villas in the now suburban town of Bagheria, 15km (9 miles) east of the centre and easily reached by train. Many of the villas and groves of olives and lemons that surrounded them have disappeared, but you can still get a sense of what life here was like. The only way to see many of the villas is from the road through high gates. This is not unrewarding in the case of Villa Valguarnera on Via Trabia; the facade is the most lavish in Bagheria, with a parapet topped by statuary.
Villa Palagonia on Piazza Garibaldi, is the most eccentric of the villas. Ferdinand, Prince of Palagonia, an 18th century resident, decorated the gardens with more than 200 grotesque statues depicting his faithless wife’s lovers. The interior is now fairly sedate, though in the prince’s day it was filled with broken glass and piles of shattered crockery. Only in the Salone degli Specchi, where cracked mirrors are set at odd angles into the walls and ceilings, do you get a sense of the prince’s bizarre tastes in interior décor. Villa Cattolica retains its grandeur and houses the Museo Guttuso, a bizarre collection of contemporary paintings and the tomb of Sicilian painter Renato Guttuso (1912-87).