Art and religion is a pretty common pair but in Sicily it becomes extraordinary. Today Sicilian Secrets brings you to Palermo and Monreale. It’s time to pack and visit two amazing churches. Be ready to jump into the Arab-Norman atmosphere.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to land in Palermo. So, fasten your seatbelt and have fun!
Once you get in the main Sicilian city, you will be literally overwhelmed by colors, flavors, sounds and astonishing architectures that will catch your attention. For sure, the true ‘jewel’ is the Cathedral dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Due to its history, it’s a complex characterized by many different styles. Even if this church was founded by Pope Gregory I and erected in 1185 on the area of a previous Byzantine basilica, in the 9th century, when Saracens conquered the city, it was turned into a mosque.
I won’t bother you with technical details but for sure I have to mention a couple of things that you cannot miss!
First of all, the tombs of some royal figures that marked Sicilian history such as the Emperor Henry VI, his son Frederick II. He was King of Sicily from 1198 but also of the Holy Roman Emperor from 1220. His reign is known as the period in which the Holy Roman Empire reached its maximum territorial expansion ever. It’s not a coincidence if he was called stupor mundi (the astonishment of the world).
Frederick II inherited German, Norman, and Sicilian blood, but his (very stubborn!) temperament was 100% Sicilian.
Palermo Cathedral houses also the sarcophagus of Roger II, the first King of Sicily, and his daughter Constance. They were earlier located in the Cathedral of Cefalù and then moved here. But the most peculiar element that you can see inside the church in the sundial. It was built at the beginning of the XIX century by the astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi, the one who discovered the asteroid Ceres. Look at the floor, you will notice a bronze line running North/South. At solar noon the sunlight touches this line: seasons change, so this tool was very important to measure time and standardize the calendar. A great invention that revolutionized scientific world in the past!
This gorgeous cathedral is part of the Arab-Norman series of religious (and not only) buildings that date back to the era of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily (1130-1194), as well as the cathedrals of Cefalù and Monreale.
And since we are right close to Monreale, here is the second stop of our trip!
Bear in mind that both churches have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This town overlooks the so-called Conca d’oro, a valley famous for oranges and almond trees located next to the coast, where the blue sea meets the bright colors of the flora. Only 15 kilometers away from Palermo, and you can visit its Norman-Byzantine cathedral. We don’t want to sound immodest, but this church is one of the most remarkable examples of Norman architecture in the world. Since 1182, it has been dedicated to the Nativity of the Virgin Mary.
This building is pretty peculiar because it is a mix of several styles that we could see even in Middle East. Moreover, you cannot miss the cloister: it’s one of the most beautiful Italian ones! Columns in white marble and capitals carved with allegorical and biblical scenes…simply A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!
Regarding the church, you will be surprised by the impressive glass mosaics, the pictures on the apse and the sarcophagus of William I of Sicily and William II (the founder). And of course, don’t forget about two baroque chapels that have been added later, between the 17th and the 18th centuries.
Many legends exist about the Cathedrals of Palermo and Monreale…and you can discover more only coming here!