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Monreale Cathedral, Palermo
Monreale Cathedral is the greatest of all the monuments to the wealth and artistic taste of the Norman kings in northern Sicily. Founded around 1170 by William II, and dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the church was elevated to the rank of a metropolitan cathedral in 1182. The outside of the Arab-Norman cathedral is plain, except the aisle walls and three eastern apses, which are decorated with intersecting pointed arches and other ornaments inlaid in marble. The archiepiscopal palace and monastic buildings on the south side were of great size and magnificence, and were surrounded by a massive precinct wall, crowned at intervals by twelve towers. This has been mostly rebuilt, but little now remains except ruins of some of the towers, a great part of the monks’ dormitory and frater, and the splendid cloister, completed about 1200.
Highlights: The tomb of William I of Sicily; the cloister.
Address: Via Rizzo/Via Paradiso
Tel.: (0931) 662 06
Palatine Chapel, Palermo
The Palatine Chapel is the royal chapel of the Norman kings of Sicily situated on the ground floor at the center of the Palazzo Reale in Palermo. The chapel was commissioned by Roger II of Sicily in 1132. It took eight years to build and many more to decorate with mosaics and fine art. The sanctuary, dedicated to Saint Peter, is reminiscent of a domed basilica. It has three apses, as is usual in Byzantine architecture, with six pointed arches (three on each side of the central nave) resting on recycled classical columns.
Highlights: Carolingian throne; Christ Pantocreator in the cupola; the Angels surrounding Christ and the Evangelists.
Address: Palazzo dei Normanni, Piazza Indipendenza
Tel.: (091) 705 60 01
Web site: www.ars.sicilia.it (Italian)
The Sicilian Baroque
The Sicilian Baroque style came to fruition during a major surge of rebuilding following a massive earthquake in 1693 in southeastern Sicily. Around 1730, Sicilian architects had developed confidence in their use of the Baroque style. Their particular interpretation led to its evolving further into a personalized and highly localized art form on the island. The eight towns in southeast Sicily, Caltagirone, Militello Val di Catania, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo, Ragusa and Scicli represent a considerable collective undertaking, successfully carried out at a high level of architectural and artistic achievement (UNESCO World Heritage Site).
Highlights: Caltagirone; Militello Val di Catania; Catania; Modica; Noto; Palazzolo; Ragusa; and Scicli.
Address: Various locations
Aci Castello (Ct)
Aci Castello takes its name from the Norman castle nestled on the top of a rock on its shores. The fortress, destroyed on several occasions, was rebuilt by Tancredi in 1189. Under the Bourbons in 1787, the castle became a prison. A splendid view over the faraglioni can be enjoed from its top. Nowadays, the castle hosts the small Municipal Museum.
Address: Various locations
Aci Castello (Ct)
Tel.: (095) 27 10 26
Chinese Villa, Palermo
The Chinese Villa (Palazzina Cinese), commissioned by King Ferdinando IV of Bourbon, was built by architect V. Marvuglia in 1799. Marvuglia kept the Chinese decorative and structural themes of the original building such as the pagoda style roof. The apartments are distributed amongst the two levels of the palace. On the first floor, the conference and dancing halls are adorned with panels by Velasquez. On the second floor is Queen Regina M. Carolina’s apartment with a conference hall and bedroom. After the unification of Italy, the Chinese Villa became a possession of the new Kingdom of Italy and, later on, of the Italian Republic. Nowadays, the villa is part of the Parco Della Favorita in Palermo.
Address: Parco della Favorita
The famous Greek admiral George of Antiochia commissioned the church in 1143, which it was completed in 1151. After the Sicilian Vespers of 1282, the island’s nobility gathered in the church for a meeting that resulted in the Sicilian crown being offered to Peter III of Aragon. The common name La Martorana originated under King Alfonso of Aragon, who in 1436 assigned the church to the nuns of a Benedictine convent established in 1194 by Eloisa Martorana. The nuns extensively modified the church between the 16th century and the 18th century, making major changes to the structure and interior decoration. The nuns of the Martorana were famous for their molded marzipan, which they made in the form of various fruits. Although the convent no longer exists, frutta di Martorana are still one of Palermo’s most famous and distinctive foodstuffs.
Address: Piazza Bellini 3, Kalsa
Tel.: (091) 616 16 92
San Giovanni degli Eremiti, Palermo
Built on the will of Roger II between 1130 and 1148, the church is famous for the typical Arabian-Fatimite red domes. These round domes, representing the sky, (placed upon quadrangular towers, representing the Earth) make it one of the most well-known symbols of Palermo. The building is surrounded by a garden, rich in exotic colors and smells such as those of jasmine, oranges and pomegranates; it also features a small cloister.
Highlights: domes; cloister.
Address: Via dei Benedettini
Tel.: (091) 651 50 19
The church was erected in 1185 by Walter Ophamil (or Walter of the Mill), the Anglo-Norman archbishop of Palermo and King William II’s minister, on the area of an earlier Byzantine basilica. By all accounts this earlier church was founded by St. Gregory and was later turned into a mosque by the Saracens after their conquest of the city in the 9th century. Ophamil is buried in a sarcophagus in the church’s crypt. The medieval edifice had a basilica plan with three apses, of which only some minor architectural elements survive today.
Highlights: dome and part of the apse of the Cathedral of Palermo; main façade; sarcophagus of Frederick II of Hohenstaufen; the Baroque small side cupolas by Ferdinando Fuga; the famous portico by Domenico and Antonello Gagini; the 1466 Gothic-Catalan style wooden choir and the marble remains of the Gagini’s retable (removed during 18th century alterations) are also precious, as well as a marble statue of the Madonna with Child by Francesco Laurana and pupils.
Address: Corso Vittorio Emanuele
Tel.: (091) 33 43 73
Web site: www.cattedrale.palermo.it (Italian)
Cefalù Cathedral (Pa)
The Cefalù Cathedral was begun in 1130 by Ruggero II and completed in 1267. A beautiful architectonical building in the center of the town, it lays at the bottom of La Rocca, the big steep rock dominating the sight. The Cathedral is one of the finest in Sicily and displays gorgeous mosaics. On the apse is a wonderful mosaic of Christ Pantocrator.
Address: Piazza Duomo
The church was originally built in Norman times.But only in 1197, in a ceremony presided over by Henry VI of Swabia (the father of Frederick II, who lived and was buried in Messina), was the church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Nothing of the original Norman construction remains today except for the general layout and the overall exterior appearance which, after the 1908 earthquake, the architect Valenti reconstructed on the basis of ancient documents.
Highlights: The Cathedral treasure; the bell tower.
Address: Piazza Duomo
Web site: www.aptmessina.it
The most important architectonical building in Catania is the Cathedral, dedicated to the Patron Saint Agata. Started in 1091 by Count Roger the Norman, the church was finished in 1169, but almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1693. It was extensively rebuilt in baroque and neo-classical styles.
Highlights: The façade by Vaccarini (1736 -1758); several royal personages are buried there, including Frederick III of Aragon (ruled 1296-1337) and Queen Constance, wife of Frederick IV (ruled 1355-1377).
Address: Piazza del Duomo
Annunziata of the Catalans in Messina
The church was built between 1150 and 1200 on the remains of a pagan temple dedicated to Neptune. It is an interesting example of how various architectural styles were added to a late Byzantine construction. The church has been known by the name “Catalani” ever since the 16th century, when the senate of Messina gave it to the powerful guild of the Catalan merchants.
Address: Via Garibaldi