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Sicily Travel Guide

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Palermo, Sicily

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Palermo and Vicinity

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Palermo is an exceptional building

Palermo's  historic center reflects its Norman heritage.  While the Norman King Roger desired to make his country a Catholic one, he helped forge a society where all religions were welcome.  Many of the buildings (including the cathedrals) commissioned by the Normans were designed and built by practitioners of Islam and the resulting architecture reflect this mix of masters.  

The city's impressive  Duomo shown above (the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta on Corso Vittoria Emanuele) dates from the 12th century, although it has undergone many renovations that have altered its original design. One of the cathedral's many chapels contains the sarcophagi of  Roger II (the first King of Sicily), Frederick II and Henry VI (Hohenstaufen), one of the Holy Roman Emperors.  The Cathedral occupies a site that was previously a mosque, which was reputedly created by renovating a Byzantine church.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palermo is a maddening mix of traffic, crowds, noise, crumbling buildings and some historical treasures.  The Palace (Palazzo di Normi) on Piazza Indipendenza has been altered numerous time since it was built by Roger II in the  12th century.  For many the main attraction of the Palazzo is its Palatine Chapel. Other sections of the building are available on a tour-only basis. The Palazzo also serves at the forum for the Parliament of Sicily (Piazza de Parlamento).

The Zisa (11th century), just to the west of Old Town Palermo (on the Piazza Zisa), is a Moorish influenced palace constructed for King William I.  It is worth a short visit if you are in the area.

The region Archaeological Museum in the Piazza Olivella is one of the gems of Palermo.  It offers interesting displays on the history of the Etruscans, Greeks and Roman in this area of Sicily. For more information, see this link.   The Archeological Museum is located in the Old City Center near the Teatro Massimo, off of Via Roma

The Capuchin Catacombs were used for burials once the local cemetery was filled.  Over 8000 bodies (not caskets, but bodies) were wedged-in here between the 16th and early 20th centuries.  Although somewhat morbid of an attraction,  the neatly stacked skeletal remains are a popular visit for many tourists.

There are several interesting piazzas in the historic center of the city, mainly along Via Vittorio Emanuele.  Follow Vittorio Emanuele to the Piazza Bellini to see the church Sana Caternina, the Norman La Matorana Bell Tower and the Arabic domes on the former church San Cataldo.  Also, be sure to see the Piazza Quattro Canti, which is one of the city's most decorative piazzas.

 

During the reign of the Normans, a great effort to convert Sicily to Christianity was undertaken.  In addition to the Duomo in Palermo, impressive cathedrals were constructed in nearby Monreale (William II) and in more distant Cefalý (William I).  Although the architecture of both cathedrals is unremarkable, the interiors hold incredibly beautiful mosaics that cover most exposed surfaces.

The interior of Monreale Cathedral (Santa Maria al Nouva) is decorated  with  some of the most famous and celebrated mosaics in the world.  The cathedral's architecture and decorations are one of the best examples of the mix of Arab, Byzantine and Norman styles that makes this area of Sicily so unique.

The Norman Cathedral at Cefalý (shown below) is yet another classic representation of the blended architectural style of the Palermo region.

        

The Norman cathedral dominates Cefalý's profile.  The setting is scenic and  impressive.  As at Monreale, the real treasures of the cathedral are its beautiful mosaics.  Cefalý sits on a rocky coast and some of the views in the area are gorgeous. Located approximately 40 miles east of Palermo, Cefalý has a number of modest attractions, good food and a reputation as a place "to get away".

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Interior area of the Norman Palace in Palermo

San Cataldo is a former church in Palermo that was constructed by the Normans, but bears  three domes, reflecting the Arabic influence in Sicily at the time.

 

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Image of Christ Pantocrator in the apse at Monreale Cathedral

The Benedictine Cloister at Monreale Cathedral and some of the  two hundred plus columns supporting its  portico.

 

Although similar looking to the image above, this mosaic of Christ Pantocrator is from the Cathedral at Cefalý.

 

 

 

 

  

  

 

 

 

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