The Grand Hotel et des Palmes was founded in 1874. Built in 1856, it was originally the home of the aristocratic Ingham-Withaker family and was linked by an underground passage to a nearby Anglican chapel. After the death of her first husband, Lady Ingham married Giacomo Medici, the Prefect of Palermo and a hero of the Risorgimento. The building was sold to Enrico Ragusa, a local entrepreneur who transformed it into a hotel.
In 1907, Ernesto Basile, one of Italy’s foremost Art Nouveau architects, made alterations to the Foyer, one of Europe’s most attractive, and to the "Fireplace Saloon", where the ceiling, inlaid by English craftsmen, is similar to that of Palazzo Montecitorio, the Italian House of Deputies in Rome, also designed by Basile.
The hotel has seen several important moments in the history of Sicily. In 1882, the future Prime Minister Francesco Crispi gave political lectures here, while the formidable twelve-course dinner served to another future premier. Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, is still remembered.
Richard Wagner and his wife Cosima Liszt were guests from 5 November 1881, and the armchair where the great composer sat while he wrote his opera "Parsifal" is still conserved in the hotel.
The Uruguayan essayist and philosopher Jose Enrique Rodo wrote his last pages during his stay here in 1917.
The hotel, situated at the heart of the ancient centre of the city, has welcomed many famous and powerful political figures, and momentous decisions influencing the destiny of Sicily have been taken here. In 1943 it was the headquarters of the Allied Forces in Italy, and General Charles Poletti made his official residence here.