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The BBC's Julian Keene
"This is a city where the dog, the cat and the mouse walk together"
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Friday, 4 May, 2001, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Postcard from Palermo
Milan 8 May South Tyrol 7 May Rome 11 May Rome 12 May Rome 14 May Messina 9 May Palermo 10 May

Julian Keane, presenter for the BBC World Service's World Today programme, brings you his daily postcard from Italy in the run up to the general election on 13 May.

10 May

If I say the word Palermo, what is the first thing that comes to mind?

Before you say Mafia think again - cultural jigsaw is just as appropriate.

Colonisers have come and gone and all have left their mark.

In many ways the city is built like a Roman camp - structured, orderly and running through its centre the main avenue or as some call it, Palermo's spine.

But on either side are Palermo's fish bones - small narrow streets where you catch only the briefest rays of sunshine.

There is more to Palermo than just the mafia
The only specks of colour are clothes put out to dry on nearly every balcony - the alleyways are alive and vibrant.

People call to one another from window to window struggling to make themselves heard above the sound of the traffic nearby.

Palermotans will tell you this is a city where the dog, the cat and the mouse walk together - ask why and they point you in the direction of San Paolino de Jardinari, one of the few examples of a Catholic church turned into a mosque - not by force but by popular demand.

A decision taken just over ten years ago.

With no stained glass windows, no frescoes - just simple white walls San Paolino is now a place of worship for the local Muslim community - only the altar remains - a visible reminder of what it once was.

Not far away even earlier evidence of cultural cross-fertilisation - the Duomo de Mondreali cathedral with its 6,000 square metres of golden mosaics designed by the Normans built by the Arabs.

Changed times

And the Mafia I hear you say - well yes, this is where it was born.

Scratch beneath the surface of the city and you might well come into contact with what the Sicilians call the octopus.

But times have changed.

I am told that 20 years ago the streets would empty at night, such was the climate of fear and foreboding.

Now restaurants open late - some bars never close. Palermotans don't think twice about taking a midnight stroll.

Today the dog, the cat and the mouse no longer return home when the sun sets on the streets of Palermo.

Click here for The World Today webpage.

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02 Feb 01 | Europe
Timeline: Italy
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