In the representations of Palermo in the XVIIth century, any palace of the waterfront had a particular monumental shape. In 1692, Girolamo Branciforti, Duke of Martini, decides to build a lodge on the sea in this area.

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The Duke Branciforti asks Giacomo Amato, great architect of the Baroque era in Palermo, a project for the new house

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Charles of Bourbon is crowned King of Sicily in Palermo on July, 4, 1735. The Prince of Butera welcomes the new sovereign, as First Title of the Kingdom, and appears in the first lines of the ceremony. The Palace, now in the ownership of Ercole Michele Branciforti and Gravina, has decorative furnishings, as it appears in a celebrative book made for the occasion. For Palermo, this is the starting point of thirty years of peace, prosperity and renewal.    

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In 1737, the Prince asks the Senate of Palermo the permission to build a terrace on the Captives street (la strada dei cattivi). The terrace is realised in 1750. From that moment, Palazzo Butera is the first palace visible from the sea, alike the Royal Palace in Naples. The Branciforti suppressed a public space, following a process of embezzlement typical of the aristocracy of the time – and the sight on the sea was pushed further away from the city.    


In 1759, a fire burns partially Palazzo Butera. As a powerful reaction, the following year, the Prince acquires the palace adjacent to his house, at the time owned by the Moncadas, Princes of Paternò and Counts of Caltanissetta. As a result, Palazzo Butera doubles its size and takes the actual dimensions. In these years, the ceiling of the rooms undergo a decoration with frescoes realised by Gioacchino Martorana (for the figures) and Gaspare Fumagalli (for the fictive architecture).

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 restoration at the first floor, the original painted lambris was brought back to light. They were covered with several layers of repaints. The colours – rose pompadour, green Ceylon, indigo – resemble the tones of the Meissen porcelain, like the ones the Prince of Butera collected and displayed in his room in the Eighteenth Century. During the restoration, the findings of these original frescoes set the guidelines for the choice of colours, realised with the marmorino technique for the underlying walls.

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The two rooms at the end of the enfilade have been decorated between 1764 and 1765, when Salvatore Branciforti succeeds to his father in the title of Prince of Butera. They are an extraordinary evidence of the Rococò taste, fashionable from 1730 in the courts of Europe, like Naples, Paris and Vienna. The artists working in these two rooms are well documented in the archival documents. The stucco ceiling is a work by Francesco Alaimo, doors and mirrors are carved by Girolamo Carretti with Chinese figures, the still life paintings are by Gaspare Cavarretta and the allegorical scenes on wax are executed on drawings by Gaspare Vizzini.

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At the time of Goethe and Hackert, the most cultivated travellers are introduced to the Prince of Pietraperzia, which meets Dominique-Vivant Denon, Jean-Pierre Houel and Friedrich Münter. The cultural education of Ercole is shaped by the Grand Tour Era, between archeological discoveries and hard stone collections. He is probably the patron of the gothic room at Palazzo Butera. The restoration clarified that this room had been turned around, as this room had previously a rococo decoration of mirrors, still life paintings and gilded woodcarvings. The creation of a “public” library in Palazzo Butera is also up to Ercole: it is probably the room where the lower shelves are from the eighteenth century, while the upper part has been added in 1899.

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When his father dies (1799), Ercole inherits the title of Prince of Butera. He is committed to defending the monarchy, in the years when the French Revolution forced the Bourbons into exile in Sicily. The Branciforti feel that the threat of losing power looms and decide to create a new archive in 1795, as an attempt to maintain their privileges, which will soon be lost. At the end of the ongoing restoration, the bookcases will return to the original Pompeian colours. The former archive will house a library of consultations and a bookshop.

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In 1799, the Branciforti acquire the adjacent Palazzo Benso. However, their masculine line ends in 1814, and Palazzo Butera enters in the properties of the Lanza, Princes of Trabia. In 1836, during a trip in Sicily, a young Eugène Viollet-le-Duc draws a sketch of the monumental staircase of the building for his study sheets. Today, after the restoration work on the marbles and the frescoed ceilings, the staircase reappears as one of the most spectacular spaces of the palace.

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In the era of the Lanza, Palazzo Butera undergoes adaptations more than radical transformations. When Giulia Florio marries Pietro Lanza, Prince of Trabia (1885), the season of the Belle Époque has just begun and the palace becomes the ideal scenery for receptions and parties, also in honor of European kings. The winter garden, located in a double height room inside Palazzo Benso, is the symbolic place of this age: these rooms, like the squares, palaces and streets in the surrounding area, will be destroyed by the bombs in the World War II.

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In 1950, in a storage room of the ground floor, the golden coach of Salvatore Branciforti comes back to light. It is used for a movie by Jean Renoir, with Anna Magnani, produced by the Panaria Film of Francesco Alliata (1952). Now the coach is on show on the staircase at the Royal Palace in Palermo.

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In the 1950s, Palazzo Butera becomes the Regional Department of Local Authorities and from 1968 – a year in which the University seems to be interested in acquiring the palace, for the Faculty of Architecture – Palazzo Butera becomes a high school (Istituto tecnico per il turismo “Marco Polo”). A series of photos, made by Roberto Collovà in 1970, are a precious visual source for these years. The vegetation grows flourishingly on the terrace, the professors’ lounge is located in the golden room and the administrative office is in the gothic room. In 1982, the former owners take over the building, which is used for venues of antique fairs, concerts, conferences and receptions. The adjacent Palazzo Benso, in ruins until these years, is rebuilt in style between 1986 and 1991.



Guarda la photogalleryRoberto Collovà


Palazzo Butera is bought by Francesca and Massimo Valsecchi. For the palace, this is a new page of the history. On January, the ongoing restoration starts.

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In two years and a half of works, many projects and interventions have been completed, always followed by research and discoveries. A walkway in iron and glass gives the chance to look at the spaces from a different perspective of the ground floor. Other rooms have mysterious objects, like the roots of the Jacaranda, found in a sewage covered by maiolica tiles !

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During this time, the first floor will be open only on special occasions. There are two frescoed rooms, with the library and the access to the terrace, which can be requested for educational activities, conferences, workshops and book presentations.

On the second floor, the Valsecchi collection will be displayed, but the intention is to create an experimental space for exhibition, rather than a static museum. The exhibition arrangements will periodically change, in order to generate new dialogues between objects. Crossings between minor and major arts, ancient and contemporary historical periods, will be the dynamic way in which Palazzo Butera will explore cultures. Other museums could contribute with loans and exchanges, in order to create a place in Palermo, where one could have an idea of the world.

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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. The guestrooms are located in the mezzanines and are provided with independent services and a shared kitchen. From the windows, the guests will admire a splendid view on the historical center of Palermo and the waterfront.

Guarda la photogalleryFausto Brigantino

One could get in the guesthouse via a walkway, that will also be open to the public and will allow to look out over the ceiling from a different perspective. In this way, one will understand the constructive system of the attics, and the palace as a whole, made by wood, canes and plaster. The second-floor rooms are supported by iron tie-rods: it seems to be behind the scenes of a theater or in the hull of a ship.

The restored facades of Palazzo Butera are already visible, after a conservative intervention on the antiques plasters and some punctual pictorial additions. 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. ​


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.