We commissioned a local cab driver to drive us to Monreale and around Palermo for a day. It cost us Euro200 (7pax) for a whole Half Day City Tour. We cruised at leisure through Palermo’s bustling landmarks then parted ways at the Piazza Verdi for lunch and free time for shopping as we walked back to Port.
Monreale, a historic hill town overlooking Conca D Oro, is a picturesque place most famous for the fine mosaics in the town’s great Norman Cathedral. The upper part of the cathedral’s interior is completely covered in gleaming gold mosaics; more than 6,000 sqm of mosaic. They were almost certainly created by Byzantine craftsmen, and the combination of Norman, Byzantine and Islamic art and architecture here is a spectacular demonstration of the influences which created Sicily’s most glorious era.
Outside the Cathedral, adjoining its south side, is another artistic and architectonic masterpiece: the cloisters. Built in 1200 as part of the Cathedral abbey, the cloisters comprise 108 pairs of marble columns, a covered arcade of Arabic arches and a central quad. Every other pair of columns is decorated with unique mosaic patterns (no two are the same) and each is topped by a floral capital. The overall effect is one of not quite perfect symmetry, but absolute perfection. The real beauty of it all, however, lies in the fact that although you know you’re strolling around the cloisters of a European church, you could equally be relaxing in the internal garden of a rich man’s house in the Damascus or Cairo of yesteryear.
Perused down a lane of Ceramic Shops – to be greeted with views of Conca D Oro.
During Sicily’s Norman period, Archbishop Palermo Gualtiero Offamiglio founded the cathedral on the site of a Muslim mosque, which had itself been built over an early Christian basilica. The archbishop’s main aim was to surpass the glory of the magnificent cathedral of nearby Monreale, and the Palermo Duomo became an architectural battleground for “The Battle of the Two Cathedrals.” Inside the Duomo is a royal pantheon sheltering many tombs of Sicily’s kings and a Treasury collection – a highlight is the Constance of Aragon Crown.