"Monreale I - truly glorious" Top 5 Page for this destination Sicilia Things to Do Tip by TheWanderingCamel

Sicilia Things to Do: 200 reviews and 512 photos

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Tucked away in a small town a few kilometres outside Palermo is where you'll find the building that many regard as the magnificent apogee of the Norman's time in Sicily. Whether it was pride or piety that drove the last effective Norman king to build the Cattedrale di Monreale is immaterial - the end result is a building of such splendour and artistry that it must be considered one of the true glories of all the Middle Ages.

On the outside it's a blend of Norman (Romanesque) solidity in its structure and Arab fluidity in its decoration. Step inside and the austerity of the exterior melts away in the golden glow and subtle colour of the mosaics that cover every surface in a tour de force of the mosaicist's art. No expense was spared, no attention to detail missed, as master craftsman from Sicily and Venice created this masterpiece in just 10 years.

Full length portraits of saints and angels, scenes from both the Old and the New Testament, the lives of the saints are all depicted here against a golden background , the universal symbol at this time of the light of heaven. The colours used are mostly quite subdued, the gold a pale shimmer, the style naively naturalistic - this is quiite late work in a western style. Only in the central apse, where the mighty Christ Pantocrator, in blaze of colour and with a gaze that tranfixes, does the work really draw near to the great tradition of earlier Byzantine mosaics. Which is not to take away from the beauty of Monreale and the awe it inspires, stepping into the body of the church here is like stepping into a jewel box and everywhere you look there's another precious gem.

Whether you go with a guide who points out every vignette and story (there's no way you'll remember them all) or simply sit, wander, gaze around you at your own discretion, is up to you. Apart from the first hour or so of the day, there's probably never a time when you could expect the place to be quiet - there was a wedding going on in the middle of the scrum of tourists when we were there and no-one told anyone to move away, stop taking photos, pointing things out, whatever. If you want to really study the mosaics, my suggestion is you find the quietest spot you can whilst you're there to sit for a while, bathed in that golden glow and then buy a book as you leave, with the best quality reproduction you can afford, and absorb it all in the peace of your own home.

Directions: Open: 0800 -1800

50 cents buys you a few minutes of electricity to illuminate some of the more important mosaics.

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Jul 24, 2008
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