The Wonders of Palermo

The Wonders of Palermo

Tuesday, October 18th 2016: 2 pm we arrived in Palermo Harbour, Sicily.

Palermo is situated on the north coast of Sicily and has been the islands capital city since the 9th Century. We were visiting this city / province to see several significant sites, as part of our “Voyage to Antiquity”.

Our voyage so far – Venice to Palermo – Map courtesy of Google Maps (Map data © 2017 Google)


Palatine Chapel, Palermo

This famous chapel was built between 1132 and 1140 AD, by the initial Norman King of the Kingdom of Sicily, Roger II. It is situated on the first floor of “his” Palazzo Reale O Dei Normanni.

Palazzo Reale internal courtyard
Waiting outside the Palatine Chapel, on the first floor of the Palazzo

Notice the external artwork … only a glimpse of what the inside offers.

A closer view of artwork above the entry door
One of the carved wooden entry doors

Apparently a fusion of Latin, Byzantine and Arabic styles, the chapel is said to be one of Roger II’s greatest architectural / artistic achievements.

The altar and Apse

I don’t remember what our tour guide told us about the composition of the wall art, but at first sight I concluded it to be a combination of frescos (or murals) bordered by mosaics. However, close examination confirmed it is all amazingly detailed mosaics.

The dome above the central apse
Rear wall of chapel

The range of colours used in these mosaics are not like anything I had previously seen in a place of worship or perhaps anywhere. Initially I found it overpowering, but quickly came to love it.

Right aisle, showing organ loft
Left wall of nave, also showing the carved wooden ceiling


Palermo Cathedral

Not far from Palazzo Reale and the Palatine Chapel is the Catholic Cathedral (Duomo) of Palermo.

One of Cathedral’s towers to left, archiepiscopal Palace Tower to right

We were approaching the Cathedral from the north on foot, along Via Matteo Bonello. The Cathedral’s original main entrance is under these arches (see above). However we walked to the south side and entered the door there. Apparently it is now used as a main entrance (see below).

Southern side entrance
Southern side of the Cathedral showing the many additions and alterations
Transept leading to a silver altar and apse

Despite being opposite the new entry door this is not the central nave, but “crosses” it.

Amazing silver altar
Dome above silver altar
Main altar and apse, opposite the Via Matteo Bonello entrance
Central nave looking towards the rear of the Cathedral and into the left nave
Apse, off left aisle


Monreale Cathedral

Wednesday morning, 19th October 2016: Our tour bus transported us from MV Aegean Odyssey (still docked in Palermo harbour) to Monreale, a 30 minute journey.

Monreale is a town of approximately 38,000 people in the province of Palermo, 15 kilometers south-west of Palermo City.

During the 169 years of Arab occupation of Sicily, from 902 to 1071 AD, Monreale became the seat of the Bishop of Palermo. And it is said that William II, grandson of Roger II, chose to build a cathedral here in 1174 because of the role Monreale played during the Arab occupation.

Monreale Cathedral’s exterior

There’s plenty of commercial activity around the Cathedral’s entrance.

Bell Tower with cloister wall to right side
Arches and ceiling above the main altar
Apparently more than 2000 kg of gold was used to create the mosaics
The Sanctuary with choir stalls, Bishop’s and King’s white thrones either side. High Altar and Easter Apse behind

The similarities between the mosaics in Roger II’s Palatine Chapel in Palermo and those within William II’s Monreale Cathedral are easily recognised. It seems the young King William II (aged 24 when construction commenced) wanted to create a similarly magnificent building in Monreale to establish his credentials as king? Was he also keen to erase the negative image of the Norman monarchy his father, William I, had created in Sicily, by building something equal to or greater than his much-loved grandfather had done?

Altar in the Chapel (Cappella del Crocifisso), part of Monreale Cathedral

The Monreale Cathedral was dedicated to the “Nativity of the Virgin Mary” by William II.

The mosaics were designed to tell the major stories of the bible to a congregation who could not read

One could spend weeks becoming familiar with the many wonderful mosaics and architectural details in this cathedral. And although we had less than two full days in the Palermo region, we feel very privileged to have experienced such beauty at this Cathedral, the Palatine Chapel and the Cathedral of Palermo, within that time.


The next installment of our “Voyage to Antiquity” will take place in the small village of Erice Sicily, near Trapani. So please stay tuned for that, more than slightly interesting, excursion. Take care!

  • Ron White
    Posted at 16:56h, 22 June Reply

    Great pics mate but the thing I’m really enjoying is the comprehensive information. I mean, I was there but now my journey is being ‘value added’ through your impeccable research. It’s great to have all your posts collected like this…much appreciated. Best regards to Maggie.

  • alistairstravel
    Posted at 19:27h, 22 June Reply

    Thank you Ron, I am pleased you are getting something from the blogs. I’m gaining a much greater appreciation for what we saw as I do the research for each destination and match the various facts and figures to my photos. It is taking much more time than I expected, but doing it is bringing me a lot of joy. Looking forward to catching up with you and Heather soon.

  • Kevin @ Bev G.
    Posted at 16:27h, 23 June Reply

    Thanks Alister and Maggie for such a complete coverage of that historic island. From the little I remember of it’s history, Siciily has been ruled by Romans, Greeks, Carthaginians, Muslem, and Russell Crowe and his slaves.
    I understand from some reading that most of the current cathedrals were built on the site previously occupied by an offering to a previous god/deity!
    The other interesting date a that many of the current wonders wee built between the 13th and 15th century. Every church I’ve been associated with in the lavish 20th century has been under duress building modest Parish churches. I guess they were in the market those days with ” passports to heaven” indulgences!!
    Cheers, K’n’B.

    • alistairstravel
      Posted at 09:11h, 30 June Reply

      I aprecaite your comment Kevin. Yes, like most of Italy, Sicily has had a plethora of rulers.
      I think the Monreale Cathedral was built on the site of a previous Christian Church, but perhaps earlier on it was the site of another religious practice.
      Martin Luther helped to strip the church of a very stable income from”Indulgences”, but I believe the churches featured in this blog were funded by the ruling aristocracy / monarchy.

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