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Would you like to witness an internationally unique sight? Search for cheap airtickets to Monreale and you’ll change the way you consider architecture in the wide sense – and religious architecture in particular. Just a few kilometres outside Palermo, you can find the Sicilian town of Monreale, whose fame is inversely proportional to its size! It was there that, during the Norman past of Sicily, William II got inspired from the architectural masterpieces of his ancestors and decided to leave his own mark as well. Did he make it? A trip to Monreale will give you your answer. The Cathedral of Monreale is considered as one of the most elaborate, impressive and beautiful of its kind in the whole world; and definitely the most notable cathedral in Southern Italy. The cathedral’s mosaics are the supreme highlight there and their beauty exceeds human imagination. An indispensable symbol of the majesty of Sicilian culture then, now and forever, Monreale lets no one down!
Just 8 kilometres outside Palermo, Monreale was founded on a strategic location that commanded full control of the sea routes and the Valle del Belice. Later on, Monreale was picked by the Norman kings as their residence; they named it Mons Regalis and built their royal palaces there.
The initial name of the town, ”Mont Regalis”, translates into “The Royal Mountain” and, over the years, became “Monreale”.
The Cathedral of Monreale (Duomo di Monreale) stands out as the single most notable building of Monreale. Nowadays, the Cathedral ranks among the world’s best and is considered as Southern Italy’s most precious medieval treasure. A grand, awe-inspiring structure built in a style that reflects the long history of Sicily, the Cathedral combines elements from all the three successive kingdoms of the island, from the Byzantine to the Norman era.
And, as you may have already found out, the mosaics of the Duomo form - at least – half of its charm and value; a splendid collection of glass mosaics that decorates the interior of the Cathedral. Accompanied by the elaborate cloisters of the adjacent Benedictine abbey, they are really something you just have to see in your own eyes!
The nearest airport to Monreale is the airport of Palermo (Aeroporto Falcone e Borsellino), located 35 kilometres northwest of Monreale and accessible by bus services.
Getting around Monreale
You can get around Monreale by bus, with fares costing from 1.00€.
The construction of the Cathedral of Monreale (Duomo di Monreale) began in 1174. Orders were given by King William II of the Normans, who took over Sicily after the Arabs, who had taken earlier after the Byzantines. Legends say that William II got inspired to build the Cathedral from a dream.
The Cathedral of Monreale incorporates elements that reflect all three of the successive ruling dynasties. It is a fine example of Romanesque Norman architecture with Arab influences, evident on the geometrical patterns of the floor and the outer walls, and Byzantine details, seen in its splendid mosaics.
The Cathedal of Monreale is the only Byzantine-decorated Arab-Norman Cathedral in the world!
The most striking attribute of the Duomo are, without a doubt, the mosaics. Forget everything you know about mosaics, anything you have ever witnessed so far in your life; a surface of 6,400 square kilometres is covered by the mosaics of Monreale, a total amount of 2.3 tons of gold!
The mosaics of Monreale are made of gold and tiny pieces of stained glass, each placed on the right position and angle, so as to take fully advantage of the reflection of the sun, regardless of the light’s direction. The result is astounding!
Dominant is the mosaic of Christ Pantocrator, on the central apse of the Cathedral, followed by the Virgin Mary holding little Jesus on her lap. Beginning from here, the mosaics are placed on a cyclical set-up and depict scenes from the Old Testament, the Apostles, the life and passion of Christ.
The Cathedral also has two large chapels facing the North and the South of the central apse:
- The Cappella del Crocifisso features a quite different style, made entirely by marble. It houses the famous statue of the crucifixion and dates back to the 15th century, while it depicts crucified Jesus not on a cross, but on a large tree with thousands of branches, symbolising his strong links to humanity.
- The Cappella di San Benedetto houses the pantheon of the Cathedral, holding the tombs of William I, William II and Margarita of Navarra. Don’t miss the opportunity to get to the roof, where you can enjoy a marvellous panoramic view of the town of Monreale. Before you leave the Cathedral, you should consider visiting the adjacent Chiostro dei Benedettini for an additional fee.
The yard of the Chiostro dei Benedettini was constructed at the same time as the cathedral and has 228 pairs of columns, each bearing impressive sculptures that depict various scenes from medieval Sicily.
If you notice well enough the 19th column, you will see King William II himself, humbly offering the Cathedral to the Virgin Mary!
Sicily’s official language is Italian.