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

The serial heritage site “Arab-Norman Palermo” consists of a set of nine individual sites, comprising monuments and churches; the first seven located in Palermo itself whilst to complete the itinerary and visit the last two treasures it is necessary to go on to Cefalù and Monreale.
The Royal Palace (aka Norman Palace - Palazzo dei Normanni) with its Palatine Chapel, containing Byzantine mosaics of rare beauty, the Zisa Palace; the Church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti, the church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio (or "della Martorana"), the Church of San Cataldo, Ponte dell’Ammiraglio, which used to span the ancient course of the Oreto river, Palermo Cathedral, Monreale Cathedral and Cefalù Cathedral, all with their extraordinary depictions of Cristo Pantocratore, famous throughout the world, are the places reminiscent of the multicultural Western-Islamic-Byzantine harmonious syncretism, cultural heritage of a unique historical period in the religious and political life of the island.

The Normans who settled in Sicily in the twelfth century adopted  the Muslim and Byzantine building traditions, transformed the city layout, reworked and altered the intended use of the ancient Moorish palaces taking advantage of their past splendour, thus creating a totally unique architectural style, characterised by a new and original concept of volume, space and decorative ideas.

These eclectic activities have erased the previous appearance of the original buildings but have kept alive a design model based on the eastern and Islamic system that combines buildings and monumental gardens filled with water features and fountains, as well as the typical winding and irregular layout of the streets, still visible in the urban pattern. From the point of view of style the architects and craftsmen of the time created buildings characterised by compact wall structures and churches, inspired by classic concepts and forms, and introducing new techniques of domed roofs, decorative mosaics and pavements in opus sectile. 

The productive activities that under Norman rules created the greatest masterpieces in Palermo, Cefalù and Monreale, were the unique result of a fruitful coexistence of people of different origins (Muslim, Byzantine, Latin, Jewish, French and Lombard), of knowledge and heterogeneous traditions, that combined and shaped a new architectural and decorative model on the Tyrrhenian side of southern Italy, which spread widely throughout the Mediterranean countries.

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Where: Sicily
Cities: Palermo – Cefalù - Monreale

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