Bagheria is renowned for its numerous Baroque villas built from the 17th century onwards by wealthy Palermitan aristocrats as their summer residences. Unfortunately, they are all close to the public with the exception of the famous Villa Palagonia.
Villa Butera – This stands at the southern end of Corso Butera. It was built in the second half of the 1600s by the Prince Branciforti from Raccuia. Although in a poor condition, it retains a well-preserved doorway on its eastern side that provides access to the noble floor, betraying a Spanish influence.
Villa Palagonia – The entrance is the rear of the Villa which faces onto Piazza Garibaldi, at the end of the fine Corso Umberto I, the city’s main thoroughfare. It is the most celebrated of Bagheria palazzi, with an elegant building dating back to 1715 with an unusual shape: the façade is concave, almost as if to welcome the visitor, while the rear is convex. Built by the Prince Gravina, the exuberant sculptural decoration along the top of the wall in front of the façade is owed to his grand-son Ferdinando Gravina Alliata. This arrangement, consisting of some sixty crude and often monstrous tufa statues, has provoked various esoteric interpretations. They include mythological figures, ladies, gentlemen, musicians, soldiers, dragoons and grotesque beasts with threatening expressions, creating a surreal atmosphere. The statues are placed in a peculiar way, facing in towards the villa and not, as was usual, towards outside to keep evil spirits at bay. The outcome provides an insight into the mind and spirit of the prince, who aimed to surprise, if not frighten, his guests. The eccentricity runs through the villa’s reception rooms. The fine oval entrance, decorated with trompe l'oeil frescoes illustrating Heracles’ Twelve Labours, gives access to the Sala degli Specchi (hall of mirrors), with a ceiling encrusted with mirrors set at different angles, so as to distort the reflection of anyone entering the room, projecting it through a kaleidoscope of images multiplied a hundredfold to infinity or reduced to nothing with each step taken (today, sadly, this magical effect is barely discernible). The upper part of the hall is ornamented with a trompe l’oeil, a balustrade enclosing a series of inquisitive animals and birds; these caught occasionally by a mirror in the ceiling, are reflected as though they existed under an open sky. The illusion is reinforced furher by other decorative effects as panels of real marble are set alongside others of painted paper under glass: the real may be differentiated from the unreal from a few feet away.
Villa Cattolica – The villa is currently under refurbishment; its gardens harbour the tomb of the painter Renato Guttuso, a native of Bagheria, designed and executed by the sculptor Manzù.