The Rectorate of Palermo University is based in the Palazzo Chiaramonte-Sterni which faces onto a square in the historic area of Palermo down near the sea which at that time came further inland and indeed up to the Palazzo itself. Completed in the early 14th century, it was built by the powerful Chiaramonte family who made the mistake of thinking that they could threaten the King himself who laid siege to the palazzo in 1392, defeating and beheading Andrew Chiaramonte in front of his own castle; ultimately all the male members of the family were executed so the family line would be extinguished.
The castle then came under the ownership of the King and, from 1600 to 1782, was the base of the tribunal of the infamous Holy Inquisition, with a prison block built at the rear and executions taking place in the square in front. Thereafter, it continued as the law courts of the Bourbons (with the cells continuing in use) and today houses the Rectorate of the University of Palermo, based here and in other buildings nearby.
When it was restored in the 1970′s by the well-known Italian architect Carlo Scarpa, the grooves left by iron cages which had held the severed heads of nobles who had rebelled against emperor Charles V were discovered in the façade. Scarpa inserted modern additions into the old palazzo which have stood the test of time and, though they are now 40 years old, still look contemporary. The palazzo’s historic rooms are currently under restoration.
In the 2002 restoration, graffiti left in the cells by prisoners of the Inquisition was discovered and is now included in a unique and fascinating guided tour provided by the university and are also a research resource.
The Palazzo Chiaramonte-Sterni is n excellent example of a university maintaining and reusing historic buildings for the long term, in this case a building that is 800 years old, with a blend of the historic fabric with unashamedly new – but appropriate – insertions.