A visit to the nobleman's residence of the princes of Lanza Filangieri is like a journey through the past decades. Though many of the other palazzi constructed at the same time and in the same area are all but abandoned, this one is still relatively intact. Its history as a lavish abode dates back to the early 17th century; in 1982, the last surviving family member donated the palazzo to the Sicilian government to preserve as a memorial to a vanished era.

Pause to take in the grace of the principal facade, with its double row of balconies, open to view on Via Lungarini. No other residence in Palermo can give you a better idea of a princely residence from the 18th and 19th centuries. As you enter the palazzo, look to the left, where magnificent 19th- century stables feature stalls and ornamental bronze horse heads. Take the fabulous red marble staircase up to the first floor, which is still decorated as it was when the last of the princes departed.

The first of the elegant drawing rooms is the Sala degli Arazzi, or tapestry hall, with mythological scenes that were painted by Giuseppe Velasco in 1804. Some of the salons open onto a patio garden with a flamboyant rococo fountain flanked by a pair of aviaries. My favorite spot is the exquisite Chinese sitting room, with its trompe l'oeil ceiling, leather floor, and painted silk walls showing scenes from daily life. After dinner, the princes gathered here to smoke, talk, and play cards. As a note of curiosity, the next room has a series of remarkable Neapolitan plates from the 19th century, decorated with party costumes. At masked balls, each guest was assigned a plate that featured his or her costume. From the vestibule, you can visit another smoking room, this one painted and paneled with embossed leather. For a final bit of frippery, seek out the Pompadour sitting room , with a mosaic floor and silk walls embroidered with flowers, elegance so divine as to be decadent.