Palazzina Cinese

Palermo, Italy | C.1800

Photo Credit: Alberto Alicata

It was nearly the turn of the century, and the King of the Two Sicilies found himself in a bit of trouble. By the end of 1798, Ferdinando I discovered he had suffered through a bout of misplaced hubris when he launched a (very) brief war against France. His punishment? A Sicilian exile, where his fortunes changed forever by stumbling upon a grand park and a curious castle.

Once Ferdinando and his family landed on the shores of Palermo, they discovered a Sino-style villa, poorly constructed and of no obvious use to a royal family. But in this odd abode, the King saw something of wonder. He swiftly bought the land and commissioned the original architect to fix the place up.

In only a few years, the place was transformed. The Palazzina Cinese, or “Little Chinese House”, became a more refined, mock-Chinese style palace. Weirdly wonderful, it’s been called. Nestled among billowing, centuries-old trees and elaborate labyrinth gardens, the exiled family had found their home.

Among the many improvements to the grounds are Chinese painted silk wall hangings, an intentionally “collapsed” ceiling, and the famed Mathematical Table, astonishing guests for centuries by rising through the floor, fully prepped and set for their meal.

The palace and gardens have since been converted into a public park and a museum, benefitting from a 2013 restoration after many decades of neglect. And for all the adventurers who find themselves in Palermo, you simply can’t miss it — the signature legacy of a subpar king’s curiously superb villa, beautiful and bizarre… just how we like it.

Written By: Drew Tweedy

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