It’s one of the most visited buildings in Sicily: harmonious in size, balanced in shapes and with lavish decorations, is the symbol of the refined Norman art in Sicily. A visit becomes mandatory for those who are going to organize a trip to the island.
Its construction was made by King William II, after the conflict with the powerful archbishop of Palermo. The Cathedral in fact, was build to assert the supremacy of the Norman crown over the ecclesiastical powers, which in the meantime were concerned to complete the Cathedral of Palermo.
The work began in 1174 and took advantage of the best labor available at that time to complete in a few years one of the most beautiful medieval buildings, not only of Sicily, but of all Italy.
The facade is at the center of two mighty towers, including a portico of the eighteenth century. The bronze doors date back to the twelfth century and depict biblical events and figures of Saints. The rear of the building is the one that most shows the Norman influence, consisting of three rows of arches.
Inside we witness all its beauty. The structure has three naves, divided by 18 granite columns. All around the beautiful shimmering mosaics, with gold background, cover most of the surface of the walls, portraying characters and episodes from the Bible. At the center, above the altar, the famous Christ Pancreator. The mosaics were made by Byzantine artists along with the Venetians and Arabs for what is today the most remarkable set of mosaics of Italy (the works cover about 6,340 square meters).
Inside, there are also the tombs of William I and William II the Good. Originally, in fact, the building was designed to become the Royal Pantheon. Of particular importance is also the Treasury, made up of several real reliquaries.
The Cloister of the Cathedral hides a charm in its measures and the very fine decorations that are rarely found in similar buildings. Built together with the Cathedral, is perfectly square in shape, with a long inner arcade, supported by as many as 228 columns.
Right across from the Cathedral is the entrance to the caves of Monreale, creeks within which you can hear the flow of groundwater.
Do not miss the beautiful view that you can enjoy from the “Belvedere” (observation point), directly on the Valley of the Oreto and the Conca d’Oro, a huge and fragrant garden-like, territory planted with thousand of orange trees. Inside the public gardens, we can admire the Civic Gallery of Modern Art, in which are preserved sculptures and paintings by various artists, modern and contemporary.
Historical Background of Monreale
The genesis of the city is mainly attributable to the construction of the Benedictine Abbey in the twelfth century, around which were built private houses, most of them owned by clergymen.
In the same period were built also the residence of the King, the Archbishop’s Palace and the Cathedral. Today it is a town with many hints of the Baroque style, given by the fact that the urban formation was consolidated predominantly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.