The new road
An entire road of great importance still gives the city great prestige. The Spanish domination, through ups and downs, was already well-established in the island. Almost a century had passed since the coronation of Charles V in 1516, when Sicily had come under the Hapsburg Crown. In the presence of the clergy and nobility, Bernardino de Cardenas y Portugal, Duke of Maqueda, Viceroy of the Kingdom of Sicily from 1598 to 1601 and regent of the government in place of the king, gave the symbolic blow with his golden hammer that marked the opening of the “Strada Nova”.
The Mandamenti
It was a true urban revolution: for the first time, a street axis cut perpendicularly across the ancient Via del Cassaro (later Via Toledo), the artery along which the first Phoenician settlement of the city of Pànormos had developed, completely redesigning its appearance. The five historic districts were irremediably affected and the medieval appearance was lost in favour of a layout more in keeping with the times and with Spanish tastes. Baroque Palermo was born, perfectly divided into four new administrative districts: the “Mandamenti”, each dedicated to one of the city’s four patrons: St. Christina (Albergheria or Palazzo Reale), St. Nympha (Capo or Monte di Pietà), St. Agatha (Kalsa or Tribunali) and St. Olivia (Loggia or Castellammàre).
The Vigiliena octagon
The result of the intersection of these two straight thoroughfares, the “octangle” of Piazza Vigliena, in tribute to the Viceroy don Juan Fernández Pacheco, Marquis of Villena, marks the exact centre of the city within the walls, as well as the beating heart of that symbolic cross that defines the city’s new urban layout. It appears as a mighty stage set, framed by the four rounded corners of the sculptural-architectural façades that define the space of the intersection. It is commonly known as the “Quattro Canti”, as each corner corresponds to one of the Cantons or Mandamenti: four corners for the four districts, in a new city and a picturesque new square where the sun never sets. In this “Theatre of the Sun”, in fact, at least one of the architectural scenes is always illuminated at any time of the day. “The sun never sets on the lands of the Spanish empire”, as Charles V is reputed to have said.
From the earth to heaven
The initial project for the layout of the square, which began in 1608, was designed with great monumentality by the Florentine architect Giulio Lasso. The architectural portion of the four corners was completed in 1620, under the direction of Mario Smiriglio, from Palermo, the engineer of the Senate and former site supervisor when Lasso was directing the works. At around that time, the designs for the decorations were also prepared, with the collaboration of Nicasio Azzarello and Giovanni D’Avanzato. The iconological plan of the work, devised by the scholar Filippo Paruta, is based on the arrangement of three distinct orders, symbolising the deep interpenetration of the human and divine dimensions: the Tuscan order at the bottom; the ionic order in the middle; and the composite order at the top. The interpenetration of the earthly and divine elements can also be seen on the numerical level, where the number four refers to the earthly sphere (the seasons, the elements and the ages), whereas three is the sacred number par excellence.
Quattro Canti
The four façades are characterised by their strong sense of theatricality, their exploration of perspective and scenography on an urban scale and the effect of light and shadow created by the interplay of the structures. They are articulated on multiple levels, with a decoration based on the use of the architectural orders that follow one another according to a principle that begins from the world of nature to reach that of heaven. The first order features the fountains, which represent the rivers of the ancient city with allegories of the four seasons, each accompanied by a monstrous hybrid figure symbolising one of the four elements (earth, fire, air and water). The next order contains the statues of the Spanish monarchs Charles V, Philip II, Philip III and Philip IV. The final order has the four patron saints of the city, Agatha, Nympha, Olivia and Christina.

Western corner first order, Summer and Fire; second order, Philip II; third order, St. Nympha.

Eastern corner first order, Winter and Water; second order, Philip III; third order, St. Agatha.

Northern corner: first order, Autumn and Air; second order, Philip IV; third order, St. Olivia.

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