Overlooked by many visitors to Palermo, the palace that dominates Piazza Marina deserves at least 2 hours of your time, because for centuries the city's vicissitudes revolved around this building. Built in 1307 as a home and fortress by the powerful Chiaromonte family, the descendants added the second floor some 40 years later. But it was Manfredi Chiaromonte, the last of the descendants, who commissioned the masterpiece Hall of the Barons and its wooden ceiling, with more than 200 sq m (2,153 sq ft.) of richly decorated beams depicting Biblical episodes, stories of mythology, and moments of the chivalric cycle. It is considered a veritable medieval encyclopedia. The Aragonese made this their palace when they killed off the dynasty, and in 1601 the Spanish Inquisition officially set up shop here for 180 years. On the ground floor are the Philippine Prisons, where those even merely suspected of dubious crimes against the church were packed into miniscule cells to await their fate -- torture or death. The spectacular graffiti recovered from the walls of the old cells screams of their despair. Another wing of the building, with even more detailed, rich graffiti, is set to open in 2012. For many years, this palazzo was also the courthouse of Palermo; today it is the administrative headquarters of the University of Palermo. Renato Guttuso's most famous work, La Vucciria, is on display here.