22 Jun 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”.
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.
Notice the external artwork … only a glimpse of what the inside offers.
Apparently a fusion of Latin, Byzantine and Arabic styles, the chapel is said to be one of Roger II’s greatest architectural / artistic achievements.
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 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.
Not far from Palazzo Reale and the Palatine Chapel is the Catholic Cathedral (Duomo) of Palermo.
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).
Despite being opposite the new entry door this is not the central nave, but “crosses” it.
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.
There’s plenty of commercial activity around the Cathedral’s entrance.
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?
The Monreale Cathedral was dedicated to the “Nativity of the Virgin Mary” by William II.
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!