a splendid position high above the Conca d’Oro, the Monte
Reale in Norman times was a royal hunting lodge and residence. It
was not until William II decided to build the famous cathedral with
a royal palace and monastery attached, that a town developed in
its own right in the area. The city’s heart and soul is still
represented by the area radiating from the cathedral. On the north
side lies Piazza Vittorio Emanuele with its fine Fontana del Tritone.
The main front, however, overlooks the smaller Piazza Guglielmo,
that gives access both to the cloister and a small public garden
(last doorway on the right facing the cloister entrance). Beyond
a large courtyard is a fine garden with a magnificent view over
the Conca d’Oro. The warren of streets around are all lined
with charming cafés, restaurants and souvenir shops.
Duomo is part of a magnificent complex that also comprises a Benedictine
abbey and the royal palace, the latter converted into the Archbishop’s
Seminary in the late-1500s. The construction was initiated by William
II, Roger II’s grandson, around 1172. According to legend,
the Virgin appeared to him in a dream to suggest that he build a
church with money concealed by his father in a hiding place that
she would reveal. The building had to be so grandiose as to rival
the greatest cathedrals of most important cities in Europe and even
outshine the beauty of the Palatin Chapel in Palermo built by Roger.
The most high-skilled craftsmen came to be employed to work on the
project, with no expense spared. To the north, the church was flanked
by the royal palace and, to the south, by the Benedictine convent
whose magnificent cloister can still be admired today.
– The church is the product of a blend of artistic styles
by the craftsmen employed in the construction. The two massive towers
on the façade are Norman; so are the apses – one tall
flanked by two smaller ones –, the basilical plan and the
Cathedral basic features. The apses’ decoration, that can
be best admired from Via dell’Arcivescovado, is Moorish; along
this same street, it is possible to make out the vestiges of the
original royal palace now incorporated within the Archbishop’s
palace. The apses are articulated with three tiers of intersecting
blind arcading; the pointed arches, of varying height rise from
tall bases through slender columns. The decoration effect is heightened
by the use of two different kinds of stone (warm gold-coloured limestone
and black lava) as the ribs enclose rectangles filled with miniature
circular rose-windows traceried with kaleidoscopic star patterns.
The same elements are repeated on the façade, although the
full impact is marred somewhat by the portico that was rebuilt in
the 18th century. This shelters the beautiful bronze portal designed
in 1185 by Bonanno Pisano, an architect and sculptor responsible
for Pisa’s Tower. It comprises 46 panels illustrating scenes
from the Old and New Testaments. The surprisingly modern feel to
this work is accomplished by an economical use of figures and a
refined degree of stylisation. The two doors are hung within an
elaborately moulded stone door frame in which panels of geometric
motifs alternate with animals and human figures concealed among
branching plant fronds in shallow relief and narrow streips of mosaic.
Another bronze doorway by Barisano da Trani is on the western flnak
beneath the 1500’s portico; this is comprised of panels representing
three Biblical scenes and others from the lives of various Saints
incorporated among a range of decorative elements; although only
four years older in date, here the style is more firmly rooted in
the Byzantine tradition.
– Entrance from the west side. For a brief moment, the elaborate,
mostly golden mantle of mosaics is spell-binding. Gradually the
eye grows accustomed to the crowded mass of forms and gleaming designs,
focusing on the internal space enclosed by the individual parts
of the church. The wide nave is separated from the two smaller side-aisles
by columns bearing splendid capitals, some Corinthian, others of
a composite order with acanthus leaves below and portraits of Demeter
and Persephone (Ceres and Proserpine) above. Between the capitals
and the intrados are dosserets decorated with Moorish mosaics. Just
beyond the half-way mark, a monumental Triumphal Arch precedes the
spacious area contained by the transept and apses, that rise up
and above the level of the nave and aisles. This section of the
floor is of inlaid marble, as are the skirting and lower part of
the walls, echoing Byzantine influences. The wooden ceiling above
the choir was rebuilt in the 19th century.
church contains the tombs of William I and William II, and enclosed
within an altar, the heart of Louis IX, King of France who died
in Tunis in 1270, when his brother Charles I ruled Sicily. The Cappella
del Crocifisso features an elaborated marble baroque decoration,
with a profusion of inlay work, shallow and high-relief carving,
statues, and volutes. The wooden Crucifix is from the 15th century.
The treasury, set to one side, houses various reliquaries and cult
objects. Below the arch across the far side of the transept, sit
two thrones with mosaic scenes above; the right one above the archbishop’s
throne shows William II’s symbolic tribute to the church (the
king offers a model of the cathedral up to the Madonna); on the
left, the royal throne stands as confirmation of the Divine Protection
conferred upon the king (Christ Himself crowns William). This latter
panel depicts two lions facing each other (Eastern in derivation)
in the tympanum; these symbols of Norman power also feature on the
armrest of the royal throne.
– Against a gold background, the characters of the Bible re-enact
their stories. The colours are not as bright as those of the contemporary
mosaics in the Palatine Chapel, but the figures seem more expressive.
They were completed between the late-1100s and early-1200s century
by craftsmen from Venice and Sicily. The composition and their features,
and the symbols used are often the same as those used in the Palatine
Chapel. Their arrangement follow a precise programme in accordance
with recommendations laid down under the papacy of Adrian I during
the Seventh General Council at the second Council on Nicaea, that
was convened so as to end the Iconoclastic Controversy (787). This
specified that art should be an instrument of religion and serve
to educate the faithful in the teachings of the Christian Church.
The mosaic tell the story of Divine Redemption, beginning with the
Creation of the Earth and Man, who by committing the act of Original
Sin was forced thenceforth to toil and expiation, until God intervened
by choosing the people that He will prepare for salvation (nave).
The sending of Christ His own Son, represents the realisation of
redemption through the sacrifice of His life (transept) and works
(aisles). Christ’s mission is then continued with the Foundation
of the Church and the example given by those men that followed in
His example (smaller apses).
individual scenes are full of realistically portrayed incidental
detail: the ropes that bind the scaffolding erected around the Tower
of Babel; the knives on the table of the Wedding at Cana (high up
on the left-hand side of the crossing); the coins falling from the
table upset by Christ when He chased the moneylenders from the temple
(about half-way along the north aisle); the astonishing variety
of fish depicted in the Creation and caught in the fishermen’s
nets illustrating the miraculous draft of fishes (north transept).
Many iconographic symbols are used like the cloud (used to denote
transportation to another world) that wraps itself around the figures
that have fallen asleep as in the Angel appearing to Joseph (crossing,
on the right), or the little dark figure that appears in several
scenes representing the Devil, being cast out of those possessed
or simply haunting evil people. The image of Abel’s soul depicted
as a small red figure of split blood is particularly striking. In
the central aplse is the majestic Christ Pantocrator with the Virgin
and Child below, pictured among angels and apostles. The lowest
tier is populated with saints. Below the arch, in the middle, is
the Throne of Judgement.
vaults of the lateral apses accommodate the figures of St. Peter
(on the right) and St. Paul (on the left) with scenes from their
lives below. The life of Christ is depicted in the chancel, starting
at the crossing where stories from His childhood are related. Christ’s
adult life is represented in the transept (starting with south side),
up until the descent of the Holy Spirit. The aisles illustrate a
selection of Christ’s miracles. In the triumphal arch, above
the archbishop’s throne (right), King William II offers a
model of the cathedral up to the Virgin; above the royal throne
(opposite), William II is crowned by Christ.
nave is devoted to the Old Testament; listed below are the chapters
from this extraordinary picture book. Where appropriate, explanatory
notes are given to help unravel some of the more complex stories.
– Starting from the beginning of the nave on the right-hand
side (south wall). The spirit of God moving upon the face of the
waters. God dividing the light from the Darkness in the presence
of seven angels. The making of the firmament (Heaven). Separation
of the waters into the seas from the land that was earth. Creation
of the sun, the moon and the stars. Creation of the birds of the
air and the fish of the ocean. Creation of man. God resting. God
leads Adam into the Garden of Eden. Adam in the garden of Eden.
Creation of Eve. Eve is presented to Adam. Eve is tempted by the
Serpent. Original Sin. God discovers that Adam and Eve are ashamed
of their nudity. Adam and Eve are expelled from Earthly Paradise.
Adam working. Eve is seated with a spindle in her hand. Sacrifice
of Cain and Abel. Only the sacrifice of Abel pleases God, symbolised
by the ray of light shining straight from the Lord’s hand.
Cain slays Abel. God discovers Cain’s crime and curses him.
Cain is slain by Lamech (a story from the Jewish tradition and not
mentioned in Genesis). God commands Noah to build an Ark. Noah builds
the Ark. The animals board the Ark. Noah welcomes the dove carrying
the olive sprig, the sign that the waters have abated. The animals
come out of the Ark. Noah’s sacrifice as a sign of thanks
to God. Behind him is the rainbow, the symbol of God’s covenant
with Man. The grape harvest (on the left). On the right, Noak, drunk
and half-naked, is discovered by his son, Ham, who calls his brothers
to deride him. They are more respectful of their father’s
dignity and cover his nudity. Hence the reason for Noah to curse
Ham and his descendants, the Canaanites. This is why, henceforth,
fathers often express the hope that their sons should not take a
Canaanite wife. Noah’s descendants unite and build the Tower
of babel in an attempt to reach heaven; this results in chaos. Gods,
fearing that the force of Man might overthrow Him, caused the people
to quarrel with each other, to confound their language and scatter
them abroad; this story is often taken to be a parable for upholding
Church authority in the face of Man’s litigiousness. Abraham,
having settled in the land of Sodom and Gomorrah, encounters three
angels sent by God and invites them to his house. The angels represent
the Trinity. The hospitality of Abraham. God sends two angels to
destroy Sodom. Lot, Abraham’s nephew, shows them hospitality.
Lot tries to prevent the inhabitants of Sodom from entering the
house where two angels are. The following scene does not come from
the Old Testament, but relates to the story about St. Cassium St.
Castus and St. Castrense (patron saint of Monreale) which continue
in the tier below. Cassius and Castus, condemned to being thrown
to the lions because they refused to renounce their faith in Christ,
are saved when the lions are suddenly tamed and lick their feet.
Cassius and Castus are taken to a pagan temple causing it to collapse
onto the infidels. St. Castrense cures a man possessed of the Devil
who throws himself into the sea and causes a storm. Sodom in flames
while Lot flees with his daughters; his wife, turning round to look
back, is transformed into a pillar of salt. God appears to Abraham
and bids him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. The angel of the
Lord stops Abraham from sacrificing his son. Abraham sends a servant
to seek a wife for Isaac. At the well, Rebecca offers up water to
Abraham’s servant and his camels to drink. Rebecca sets out
on the journey to her chosen bridegroom. Isaac. Isaac with his favourite
son Esau, and his second son Jacob. Isaac blesses Jacob, believing
mistakenly that he is Esau (depicted on the right, as he returns
from hunting). Isaac who is almost blind in his old age, is deceived
by the goatskins covering the arms of Jacob who, unlike his brother,
is smooth-skinned. Jacob flees from the vengeful anger of his brother,
from whom he has stolen his father Isaac’s blessing. On his
jouney, Jacob dreams of a ladder leading from earth. God, at the
top, grants him the land on which he has fallen asleep; on awaking,
Jacob takes the stones he had been using as pillows and lays them
down as a foundation for his city. Jacob wrestles with the angel.
On his journey back to his brother Esau’s, fearing lest he
should be angry. Jacob sent forth his sheep and goats as offerings
to him. That night, having made his family ford the stream, an angel
approached and wrestled with him until dawn, when the angel blessed
Jacob and bestowed upon him a new name: Israel (meaning the one
who has fought with God and with Man, and has prevailed).
to the terraces – Access from the far end of the south aisle.
Beware, as this involves a long and arduous climb. The first outlook
provides a marvellous view down over the cloister. Further round,
there is a wonderful view of the apses. The last, highest section
provides a breath-taking view of the Conca d’Oro.
huge cloister, one of the finest examples of a building inspired
by Islamic architecture, is surrounded by a series of pointed arches
supported by sets of splendid small paired columns, many decorated
with polychrome mosaic that is Eastern in inspiration. The columns
marking each corner of the cloister, together with those at the
corner of the tiny square cloister surrounding the fountain (southwest
corner), are sculpted with animals and human figures interwoven
among fronds of luxuriant vegetation. The true jewels in the crown,
however, are the fabulous Romanesque capitals, each distintively
different and imaginatively carved. The subject-matter is drawn
from both the Medieval and Classical iconography. Without following
any particular order – implying that the capitals were intended
as merely decorative – scenes from the Gospels alternate with
stories from the Old Testament, symbolic and purely ornamental images.
The classical subjects also betray a certain inventiveness; the
acanthus leaves of the Corinthian capitals, for example, although
surprisingly natural-looking, appear to be being ruffled by the
wind. To these are added a variety of other subjects; birds stretching
down to peck the plant volutes of the capital, Atlas figures reeaching
up to support the weight of the arch, cherubs feeding animals, exotic
characters wearing turbans with snakes. Perhaps the most remarkable
capital is the one in which William II offers the church up to the
Madonna: note the detail with which the south side of the church
has been carved. One capital depicts a man killing a bull, the sacred
symbol of the cult of Mithras. Another features acrobat: his position,
his weight supported by his arms, his back arched so that his feet
rest on the back of his head (his head in the centre), recalls the
Trinacria, the ancient symbol of Sicily.
tiny cloister, nestling in the southwest corner, is graced with
a lovely fountain. The column in the centre of the circular bowl
is sculpted with banding and rested with a cluster of animals.
Martino delle Scale – 10km west of Monreale. Pleasantly
standing at a height of 548m, the village is a fine summer resort
most appreciated for its cool climate. It derives its name from
a Benedictine monastery founded in the 6th century by St. Gregory
the Great, rebuilt and enlarged in the 16th century.
church preserves a beautiful 1600’s wooden intarsia choirstall.
The road leading up to the town affords spectacular views over the
roofs of Monreale, the cathedral, and down over the Conca d’Oro
– 3km west of Monreale. The ruins of a late-Norman castle
rising from the Caputo Mount are a major attraction especially in
spring and summer months. It offers an excellent place for a picnic
with some facilities available.
Campofelice Di Fitalia
Campofelice Di Roccella
Castelnuovo Di Sicilia
Castronovo Di Sicilia
Isola Delle Femmine
Piana Degli Albanesi
San Giuseppe Iato
San Mauro Castelverde
Santa Cristina Gela
Ventimiglia Di Sicilia
Bosco Della Ficuzza
San Martino Delle Scale
Scavi Del Monte Jato
Scivoletto e Michelin Italia. Le foto sono di proprietà
dei rispettivi autori. Ogni riproduzione non autorizzata verrà
perseguita a norma di legge.
- buy on line
Guide of Sicily
italiano | in