Palazzo. Minus two letters and you’ve got pazzo (crazy). With a little bit of linguistic creativity, it sounds a bit like the English palace. And any standard dictionary will tell you it means the same thing too. So how come when I tell the Italian taxi driver that I live in the golden palazzo on the right, he does not believe I’m a Canadian princess visiting her fancy summer home in Siena?
Sure, a palazzo can be a palace in all its glory, but more often than not it just describes a large building that used to possibly be the home of a noble family. (Unfortunately, there aren’t too many dukes, counts and princes running around Italy these days to inhabit these beauties). Usually they’re a couple of stories high (the palazzi, not the nonexistent nobles), and some even have the luxury of an inner cortile (courtyard).
Presently, a palazzo could be home to apartments, offices, a school, an organization’s headquarters, a grocery store, a movie theatre, a hotel – you name it. But a palazzo doesn’t have to be a crumbling ruin, and they’re usually simply rectangular in shape, skipping the turrets and towers we might expect. Newly constructed apartment blocks or buildings with stores in them can also be referred to as palazzi (more than one), without the echoes of former grandeur.
In considering this word, I realize that the loose usage of this word palazzo, whose English equivalent drips with nobility and fairy tales, might be one of the many unexpected things that endears Italy to me. It’s a place where, by living in a building referred to as a palazzo, even a commoner can feel like a queen.