The record-setting mosaics in the William II monument
Overlooking the small Piazza Guglielmo II in the village of Monreale stands a Cathedral of the same name that is an undisputed jewel of Norman art. According to legend, Our Lady appeared to William II in a dream and showed him where to build the church. In reality, the construction of the church was driven by rivalry between Gualtiero Offamilio, archbishop of Palermo, and William II, who saw the monumental complex as a manifestation of the king’s power.
Construction of the Cathedral of Monreale, also comprising the Convent and the Royal Palace, began in 1174. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2015.
The exterior has a simple style: it impresses with its portal flanked by two Norman towers and its three richly decorated apses. But the real marvel is inside: the three naves are entirely covered with enormous golden mosaics. It is the largest mosaic in Italy, second in the world after the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul: over 6,000 square metres of glass and stone tesserae.
The true jewel of the Cathedral is the imposing mosaic decorating the central apse that depicts Christ Pantocrator in the act of blessing the faithful. Look up and prepare to be awed.