WHS: Arab-Norman Palermo, Italy

After having a bit of a run of bad luck on scheduling due to volcanic activity, weather, and summer tourist capacity overloads at Mount Etna and the Aeolians, we decided to make up for it by hunting down each and every of the nine properties that are part of today’s World Heritage Site, which collects monuments of the Kingdom of Sicily:

Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale

Located on the northern coast of the Italian island of Sicily, Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale is a series of nine religious and civic structures dating from the era of the Norman kingdom of Sicily (1130-1194). Two palaces, three churches, a cathedral, and a bridge are in Palermo, the capital of the kingdom, and two cathedrals are in the municipalities of Monreale and Cefalù. Collectively, they are an outstanding example of a socio-cultural syncretism between Western, Islamic, and Byzantine cultures. This interchange gave rise to an architectural and artistic expression based on novel concepts of space, structure, and decoration that spread widely throughout the Mediterranean region.

The monuments that comprise this 6.235-ha serial property include the Royal Palace and Palatine Chapel; Zisa Palace; Palermo Cathedral; Monreale Cathedral; Cefalù Cathedral; Church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti; Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio; Church of San Cataldo; and Admiral’s Bridge. Each illustrates important aspects of the multicultural Western-Islamic-Byzantine syncretism that characterized the Norman kingdom of Sicily during the 12th century. The innovative re-elaboration of architectural forms, structures, and materials and their artistic, decorative, and iconographic treatments – most conspicuously the rich and extensive tesserae mosaics, pavements in opus sectile, marquetry, sculptural elements, paintings, and fittings – celebrate the fruitful coexistence of people of different origins…

Four of the nine are within walking distance of each other in central Palermo, and definitely the most impressive of them is the Monreale Cathedral pictured above; the others are interesting as well but not as dramatic.

A little to the north, the Zisa Palace is worth taking a visit for its dramatic setting as well:

The one we had the hardest time tracking down was actually Admiral’s Bridge. See, we had this idea that a “bridge” would go over “water” yes? That kinda goes with the “bridge” concept, doesn’t it? Well, when we eventually figured it out, this is Admiral’s Bridge:

So it sits in the middle of a smallish park in the suburbs … not actually bridging anything. If you don’t wish to make that a significant highlight of your Palermo stay, we’ll totally understand.

Slightly outside Palermo to the south up in the hills is the Cathedral Church of Monreale, and it is an imposing edifice indeed:


And the other cathedral church that rounds out the inscribed properties is in Cefalù about an hour to the east along the coast, likewise a veritable bastion of solidity:

The Norman kingdoms of Sicily and neighbouring regions are underappreciated as a part of history —

— at least they were by us, until this visit —


p dir=”ltr”>— so we definitely recommend that when you’re planning a visit to Sicily you be sure to include a day or two in Palermo neighborhood to check out the various properties making up this site!

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I go places.

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