17th century representations of waterfront properties in Palermo show that they are not particularly grand or monumental. This is all to change in 1692, when Girolamo Branciforti, Duke of Martini, decides to replace a row of tenement buildings with a new stately home.

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The Duke of Branciforti commissions Giacomo Amato, great Baroque architect of Palermo, to draw up plans for the new house

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Charles de Bourbon is crowned King of Sicily in Palermo on July, 4, 1735. As the most important noble family in Sicily, the Princes of Butera welcome the new sovereign, and lead the celebrations. The Palace, now in the ownership of Ercole Michele Branciforti and Gravina, is festooned with decorative finery, as shown in a commemorative book made for the occasion. For the next 30 years, Palermo enjoys a time peace, prosperity and renewal.    

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In 1737, the Prince asks the Senate of Palermo permission to build a terrace on Captives street (la strada dei cattivi). The terrace isn't realised until 1750. In imitation of the Royal Palace in Naples, Palazzo Butera becomes the first palace in Palermo to be visible from the sea. In a typical practice of the time, the Branciforti appropriate a public space through bribery and embezzlement.......the view of the sea is pushed further into the distance and separated from the city.   


In 1759, a fire partially burns Palazzo Butera. The following year, in a show of power and wealth, the Prince acquires the palace adjacent to his.  This is owned by the Moncadas, Princes of Paternò and Counts of Caltanissetta. As a result, Palazzo Butera doubles in size and takes on its current dimensions. During this time, the ceilings are frescoed by Gioacchino Martorana (who paints the figures) and Gaspare Fumagalli (who paints the architectural trompe d'oeuil).

Between 1763 and 1765, the palace is a building site, where woodcarvers, masons, painters and decorators work under the supervision of the architect, Paolo Vivaldi.


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During the first floor restoration, the original panelling painted by Fumagalli was rediscovered under several layers of paint. The colours of these panels – rose pompadour, Ceylon green, indigo – resemble the hues of fashionable mid-18th century porcellain, of which the Prince was a keen collector. The tones of these original frescoes inspired the current pallette of wall colours, and were applied using a traditional tecnique called marmorino.

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The last two rooms at the eastern end of the gallery were decorated between 1764 and 1765, after Salvatore Branciforti inherited his father's title as Prince of Butera. They are an extraordinary example of the Rococco style, as was fashionable throughout the courts of Europe, from Naples to Paris and Vienna. The artists working in these two rooms are well documented in the archives. The stucco ceiling is by Francesco Alaimo, the chinoiseries doors and mirrors are carved by Girolamo Carretti, the still-life paintings are by Gaspare Cavarretta and the wax allegorical scenes are copied from drawings by Gaspare Vizzini.  Once these improvements are complete, Salvatore Branciforte leaves for the Court of Naples, where for the next thirty years, he pursues a successful political career

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During the last 30 years of the 18th century, Salvatore Branciforte's son, Ercole Michele Branciforte e Pignatelli, Prince of Pietraperzia, is living in Palermo.  He is a very interesting personality and central character in the city's cultural and political life.  In 1773  he leads a rebellion and is incarcerated by Viceroy Caracciolo and in the following year launches a hot air balloon from the terraces at Palazzo Butera, one year after their invention by the Montgolfier brothers.  Ercole's education is formed by the late 18th century's fascination with archeology and ancient artefacts.  With Palermo as part of the Grand Tour, visited by Goethe and Hackert, introductions to the Prince of Pietraperzia are much in demand and he is visited by cultivated travellers, including Dominique-Vivant Denon, Jean-Pierre Houel and Friedrich Münter.

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When his father dies in 1799, Ercole inherits the title of Prince of Butera. He is a committed monarchist in the years when the French Revolution forces the Bourbons into exile in Sicily. The Branciforti feel the threat of waning power.  In 1795 they create a new archive in an attempt to maintain their privileges, that will nevertheless soon be lost. 

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In 1799, the Branciforti buy the adjacent palace, Palazzo Benso. But their male line ends in 1814, and Palazzo Butera becomes part of the estates of the Lanza family, Princes of Trabia. In 1836, during a trip in Sicily, a young Eugène Viollet-le-Duc draws a sketch of the monumental staircase for his study sheets. Today's restoration has revived colour and light, burnishing the deep red of the Ogliastro marble and brightening the frescoed ceiling.  The staircase is again one of the most spectacular spaces of Butera

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Under the Lanza family's ownership, Palazzo Butera is subject only to minor improvements, rather than to any radical transformation. When Giulia Florio marries Pietro, Prince of Trabia in 1885, the Belle Époque has just begun and the palace becomes a focal point for receptions and parties. The winter garden, (pictured) was located in a double height room inside Palazzo Benso and is an iconic example of a Belle Epoque interior: this room, like many structures in the surrounding area, was destroyed by bombs in World War II.

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In 1950, the golden coach of Salvatore Branciforti is discovered in a ground floor storage room.  It is used in a Jean Renoir movie, with actress Anna Magnani, and produced by Francesco Alliata's Panaria Films (1952). The coach is now permanently on show at the Royal Palace in Palermo.

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 In the 1950s, Palazzo Butera houses the Regional Authority for Local Councils.  From 1968 – a year in which the University is also interested in acquiring the palace for the Faculty of Architecture – Palazzo Butera becomes home to a Hospitality school; the Istituto Tecnico per il Turismo “Marco Polo”.  A series of photos taken by Roberto Collovà in 1970 are a charming visual record of these years. The vegetation on the terrace is lush, the professors’ common room is located in the Ball Room and the Administrative Office is in the Gothic Room. In 1982, the heirs to Butera take back responsiblity for its management, which they then use as a venue for antique fairs, concerts, conferences and receptions. The adjacent Palazzo Benso, having fallen into ruin, is comprehensively rebuilt between 1986 and 1991.



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Palazzo Butera is bought by Francesca and Massimo Valsecchi. A new phase of its history begins. The January of this year sees the start of the ongoing restoration.

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In the two and a half years since the restoration began, a vast array of repairs have been completed and these have always supported by authoritative research and fascinating discoveries.  An iron and glass walkway now links four exhibiton halls on the ground floor, and many rooms contain strange things, such as a root of the courtyard Jacaranda that, in its search for water, has wandered along a maiolica-lined drain!

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On Palazzo Butera’s first floor, the Valsecchis are creating a museum-cum-home. They intend to commission works of art or collect antiques, with each restored salon of the Palazzo specially in mind. 

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The gothic room has been completed in April 2018: this is the first example of the contamination between ancient and contemporary art to be proposed at Palazzo Butera. For this room, probably conceived at the end of the XVIIIth century, two contemporary artists, Anne and Patrick Poirier designed a carpet, made in Nepal, and a series of coloured mirrors, inspired by the Cathedrals in France. The inscriptions, in ancient Greek or Latin, refer to the layered cultures visible in Palermo.  

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The second floor will display the Valsecchi collection. Exhibited pieces will periodically be changed, in order to generate new interchanges between works of art. Exchanges between high and low art, ancient and recent historical periods, will create a unique and dynamic exploration of cultures. Those international museums that decide to work together with Palazzo Butera will be encouraged to loan and borrow works of art. These exchanges will restore to Palermo some of her cultural wealth, and will open up the world beyond by way of these artistic objects. Artists, curators and personalities of the cultural world will be hosted in the guesthouse inside the palace, where they could attend projects for exhibitions and didactic activities to be held in Palazzo Butera. From the Passeggiata delle Cattive – the public promenade that over the ancient city walls facing the sea – it will be possible to access directly to the Cafeteria Le Cattive and then arrive in the courtyards, to visit the palace, with the exhibitions and the permanent collection. ​


Thanks to this intervention, Palazzo Butera will give the chance to enter the historical center of the city directly from the sea. A visual relationship the city had long lost will finally be enjoyable again.