Palermo – Mondello – Stile Liberty architecture

Between the end of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, Palermo was a European capital of considerable importance. The city’s wealthier classes displayed their wealth through Stile Liberty (Italian Art Nouveau) architecture, the modern housing style of the time. Mondello with its pretty bay was selected as the site for their architectural playground, a former marshland that would be developed into a garden city by the sea.

The architectural jewel of the bay is the bathing pier Antico Stabilimento Balneare di Mondello which sits in the water in a central position like a huge iced cake.

Inaugarated in 1913, the work is usually attributed to a Rudolf Stualker, which turns out to be a misspelling of Rodolfo Stoelker who was a German-Italian structural engineer. While Stoelker designed the foundations of the Stabilimento (one of the earliest uses of reinforced concrete in Mondello, pics here), the identity of the architect remains unknown.

Possibly the decoration is the work of the builder Giovanni Rutelli (son of Mario Rutelli the sculptor) who was responsible for the construction.

I understand the original cabanas and changing rooms had trap doors to let bathers drop straight into the sea below without being seen.

During the Second World War, the facility was occupied in turn by the Italian, German and Allied armies, and sadly much of the interior contents disappeared.

It was refurbished in the 90s and now houses an up-market restaurant which has some lovely views of the bay (my review here).

The Stabilimento has become the symbol of Mondello, an iconic building in an idyllic location where the most important cultural and social events are held.

After the Stabilimento, the next buiding to come up in internet searches is Villino Gregorietti at 83 Viale Regina Elena.

Built between 1924-1926, it was designed by Ernesto Basile, the famous local architect who was a leading light in the new modernist movement (my post here). Designed towards the end of his career, it’s not one of his most exciting creations, but I’d happily stay there (£186 p/n in 2022). Although the villa can’t currently be accessed at the time of writing, you can see several shots of the interior here.

Basile first turned his attention to Mondello in 1894 when he designed Villino Lentini at 5/A Via Cà da Mosto for the painter Rocco Lentini (no photo), which was finally built in 1910. It’s also rentable (details here).

An important member of the Basile school was Salvatore Caronia Roberti who is responsible for the Villino Societa Canottieri Roggero di Loria at 13 Viale Regina Elena. Built in 1915 it blends elements of English Domestic Revival architecture with Mediterranean-style two-tone bands.

In 1909 the Belgian company Les Tramways de Palerme was entrusted with the development of Mondello and they organised the construction of the infrastructure and the sale of vacant plots of land. From 1911, purchasers could choose the design of their villas from a catalog of typical elevations created by the engineer and architect Giuseppe Caronia Roberti (Salvatore’s son).

Some like 5 Via Armida seem more modern and colourful.

Although the floral style of Art Nouveau is most representative of Mondello, there are a number of cottage-chalet style villas, like Villino Attilia, at 7-9 Via Regina Elena, which have quite steep gabled rooves and facades decorated with framed masonry motifs. Villino Attilia was built in 1920 by the Belgian architect Lucien François.

Villino Elena at 58 Viale dei Pioppi also seems to fall into this category…

…as does perhaps it’s neighbour at 56 Viale dei Pioppi.

There are many more Stile Liberty villas along Viale Margherita di Savoia which I didn’t get time to view. At the beginning of the street, at 2 Viale Margherita di Savoia, the building currently occupied by the Intesa Sanpaolo Bank seems to be of the later Neoclassical style in comparison to its earlier Stile Liberty neighbours.

At the other end of town, Farmacia Rizzo Maria Celeste at 53 Piazza Mondello is hard for me to place architecturally as it has elements of both Neoclassical and Liberty.

You’ll find all these buildings marked on my map.

Some more interesting buildings of different architectural styles coming next!

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