Palermo and MonrealeSicily Private Excursion (1 day tour)
Palermo, the regional capital of Sicily, is one of those cities with its own very distinct, almost tangible atmosphere, a place of mystery where reality often outperforms the traveller’s imagination and preconceived stereotypes.
It is a buzzing Mediterranean centre whose 1 million inhabitants are a fascinating cocktail of apparently conflicting characteristics.
Palermo’s history has been anything but stable as the town passed from one dominating power to another with remarkable frequency.
Its strategic position in the middle of the Mediterranean brought wave upon wave of invaders including the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Saracen Arabs, the Normans, the Swabians, the French and the Spanish Bourbons just to name the most influential.
The result of this quilted history is evident today in the vast range of architectural styles.
Artistic delights abound at every corner, maybe most strikingly in the spectacular mosaics in the Palatine Chapel in Palermo and the Duomo of Monreale.
In his book “The Normans in Sicily” John Julius Norwich described the former as follows:
“It is in this building, with more stunning effect than anywhere else in Sicily, that we see the Siculo-Norman political miracle given visual expression – a seemingly effortless fusion of all that is most brilliant in the Latin, Byzantine and Islamic traditions into a single harmonious masterpiece.”
Conca D’Oro from its panoramic hill-top position, Monreale would be a fairly non-descript town were it not for the presence of one of the world’s most stunning architectural treasures: the Duomo.
The story of how this splendid cathedral came into being starts when the Arabs took control of Palermo in 831. They transformed the cathedral into a mosque and banished the Bishop of Palermo from town.
Not wishing to venture too far from his beloved cathedral, the Bishop settled in a small village in the hills overlooking Palermo, the site of modern-day Monreale.
There, he built a modest church to keep the flame of local Christian worship alive.
Some 240 year later, in 1072, the Normans drove the Arabs from Sicily, establishing Palermo as their capital and re-consecrating the cathedral.
In 1174, in an act of piety, thanksgiving and commemoration of the exiled Bishop, King William II ordered the construction of a new church in Monreale, dedicated to the Virgin Mary (one of the mosaics depicts King William II presenting the church to the Madonna).
On its completion in 1182, Pope Lucius III elevated the splendid church to the status of metropolitan cathedral.
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