The Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily

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The mosaics of Monreale are one of the greatest artistic creations in Italian history.

The mosaics of Monreale are one of the greatest artistic creations in Italian history.

Perched on the slopes of Monte Caputo, just a few kilometers outside of Palermo, is perhaps the finest example of Norman architecture ever constructed in Sicily. If you are planning a visit to the region, you will certainly want to include a visit to Monreale to see for yourself the incredible mosaic work that covers over 68,000 square feet of the interior of the Cathedral of Monreale.

It is these amazing mosaics that make the Cathedral of Monreale so special and worthy of a visit. Today, the church is a national monument of Italy and one of the most visited sites in Sicily.

History of the Cathedral

Commissioned in 1174 by the Norman ruler of Sicily, William II, the church was not completed until eleven years later in 1185. Built to demonstrate the grandeur and magnificence of his kingdom, the result did not disappoint.

Throw in a little family rivalry with William II trying to outdo his grandfather, Roger II, who built the spectacular Cathedral of Cefalu, and you have one of the most spectacular churches in the world.


William II lived just long enough to see his masterpiece completed. He died in 1189 at the age of just 36. The burial tombs of both William II and his father William I are contained within the cathedral.

The cathedral is a mix of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox design and is sometimes referred to as two churches melded into one. The nave, or main body of the church, is similar to an Italian basilica in design yet the triple-apse choir resembles those of the Middle East and Orient.


Getting There

Monreale is located just a few miles outside of Sicily’s largest city, Palermo. The easiest way to get to Monreale is to hop on one of the city buses that will take you to the Cathedral in approximately 20 to 30 minutes.

Most write-ups on Monreale will have you take the bus from Piazza Independenza. We opted instead for the AST bus from just outside the train station. The wonderful folks at the Ambasciatori Hotel warned us that the number 389 bus from Piazza Independenza is notorious for pickpockets.

The bus trip up the hill to Monreale was fairly quick and painless. It was a short five-minute walk to the Cathedral from the AST bus stop. The number 389 bus drops passengers right in front of the church, which is a more convenient drop-off point.

Scene from the bible - Noah's ark

Scene from the bible - Noah's ark

The Mosaics

The main attraction here is the cathedral itself and its beautiful mosaics, so make sure you don’t rush through. When you consider that in just three short years, local artists and those from Constantinople covered virtually every square inch of the interior with tiny golden mosaics, you will certainly appreciate the magnificence of this achievement.

While there is much to see and absorb in the cathedral, your attention will be drawn to the large mosaic of Christ the Pantocrator, which rises in the half-dome above the main apse. If you stop and consider the detail work that went into creating this masterpiece you will no doubt leave with a greater appreciation for the craftsman who labored here almost one thousand years ago.


In the close-up photo below you can make out the individual golden pieces that make up the mosaic. It must have taken millions of individual pieces to cover the interior of the cathedral.


While the mosaic of Christ dominates the interior, the rest of the walls in the church are covered with mosaics of apostles, saints, scenes from the life of Christ, and stories from both the Old and New Testament.

The wooden beams of the ceiling, which were replaced in 1811 due to a fire, are painted gold to match the mosaics of the church. Gazing up at the ceiling with its beautifully painted beams is quite an impressive site and adds to the grandeur of the church

Wooden Beam Ceiling

Wooden Beam Ceiling

Treasury and Cloister

The treasury of the cathedral also contains a number of impressive items of art from the Renaissance period and is worth a peek.

The cloister, which is the beautiful courtyard, measures a perfect 47 by 47 meters and is surrounded by colonnaded porticoes with pointed arches. There are a total of 228 columns that support the Arab style arches. You can get a great view of the cloister by heading to the rooftop terrace, which offers some spectacular views.

The Cloister

The Cloister

Bronze Doors

The cathedral has two sets of Romanesque bronze doors. As there are only a few remaining in Europe, they are a rarity. The main entrance doors were hand sculpted by Bonanno da Pisa in 1185 and they contain 42 scenes from the bible. The north doors were finished in 1179 by Barisano da Trani and contain 42 portraits of evangelists and saints.

Bronze Doors

Bronze Doors


For a small fee and a little climbing you can ascend to the roof top terrace. While you are here touring the cathedral you might as well make the climb. The view alone of the bay of Conca d’Oro and the city of Palermo below is spectacular and is worth the effort.

While entry into the cathedral itself is free of charge, there is a small charge of two euro for the treasury and the rooftop terrace, and eight euro for the cloister. The fees are small and very reasonable considering you are seeing one of the grandest cathedrals in the world.

View of Palermo from the rooftop terrace.

View of Palermo from the rooftop terrace.

The cathedral is open Monday to Saturday from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm, and 2:30 pm to 5 pm. On Sunday the hours are 8:30 pm to 12:30 pm. I highly recommend a visit to the Cathedral of Monreale if you are in Palermo, in fact it should be one of your priorities while here. Plan on allocating a half day to make the trip up the hill and to tour the site.

While here you may also want to spend some time strolling the streets of Monreale before heading back to Palermo. Enjoy your visit to this world famous masterpiece.

Ciao for now.

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© 2012 Bill De Giulio


Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on August 24, 2013:

Hi Rose. Thank You. The Cathedral of Monreale is very impressive. So glad you enjoyed the visit. Thanks so much for the vote,share, etc.. Have a great weekend.

rose-the planner from Toronto, Ontario-Canada on August 22, 2013:

Another spectacular travel article! You provided some very interesting information on The stunning Cathedral of Monreale in Sicily. The images you have included are awesome. Thank you for sharing. (Voted Up) -Rose

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on August 22, 2013:

Thank you ologsinquito. It is an amazing place. Glad you enjoyed the visit. Have a great day.

ologsinquito from USA on August 22, 2013:

These icons on the altar are amazing. Thanks for sharing this with us.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on August 22, 2013:

Hi Heidi. Thank you. Words and pictures really do no justice to this cathedral, it's that amazing. They sure don't build them like they used to. Many thanks for the vote, etc...

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on August 22, 2013:

Hi FA. Thank you. This Cathedral is truly unbelievable. When you look closely at the size of each mosaic piece you quickly realize that there are millions of pieces required to make up these masterpieces. It was a sight to behold. Thanks so much for the kind comments and the vote, share, etc... Have a great day.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on August 22, 2013:

What incredible photos! Thanks for sharing them with us. Voted up and beautiful!

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 22, 2013:

What a beautifully written guide to such an impressive cathedral. I would love to visit thanks to your insightful hubs. The photos are truly spectacular. Voted up and more. Sharing.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 05, 2013:

Hi Fiona. The churches in Sicily are amazing. Not only the Cathedral in Monreale but Cefalu has a beautiful Cathedral also as does Siracusa. We will be visiting Crete this fall and will have to brush up on what to see. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Fiona from South Africa on July 05, 2013:

Great hub - I had heard about the Byzantine style churches in Crete, didn't realise there were such beautiful ones in Siciliy.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on December 26, 2012:

Hi Peggy. Glad you enjoyed the visit to Monreale. It is amazing to think how long it took to place all of those tiny pieces that make up these mosaics. They really are stunning. Many thanks for the votes, etc. Have a great New Year.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 26, 2012:

Hi Bill,

Thanks for your wonderful description and photos regarding the Cathedral of Monreale in Sicily. Those mosaics are fabulous as are the bronze doors. And the views...well they are beautiful. All the up votes save funny...and happy to share.

Hmmm...no share buttons available at this time. Will have to come back another time to do it.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on December 02, 2012:

Hi Glimmer Twin. If you love mosaics you will love the Cathedral of Monreale and all of Sicily. The mosaic work in some of the churches in Sicily is just amazing. Thank you for stopping by and the vote.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on December 02, 2012:

Hi Mary. Thank you. If you love Romanesque and Byzantine work you will love Sicily. Definitely add it to your list. Thank you for the nice comments, appreciate the visit.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on December 02, 2012:

Hi Alicia. So glad you enjoyed this. The Cathedral of Monreale really is something special. Hopefully someday you can experience this for yourself, you will not be disappointed. Thanks you for taking the time to read and comment.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on December 02, 2012:

Hi Britney. My grandparents are from Teano, which is just north of Naples so I have a keen interest in everything that is Italy. Please do yourself a favor and make sure you get to Sicily. This is something that you will not regret. The Cathedral of Monreale is just one example of the many treasures that await you.

Many thanks for stopping by to read and comment.

Claudia Mitchell on December 02, 2012:

One of my favorite things are mosaics and the ones in this cathedral look unbelievable. Thank you for bringing this to us. Up and beautiful!

Mary Strain from The Shire on December 02, 2012:

Thank you for sharing this. These photos are just breathtaking. I love Romanesque and Byzantine artwork and would love to see this church myself. Another addition to my bucket list!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on December 02, 2012:

The cathedral looks stunning, Bill. Thank you for sharing the wonderful photos. As always when I read your hubs about Italy, I wish that I could visit the country! The architecture is magnificent.

Britney from Southern California Desert on December 02, 2012:

What a greatly detailed and informative Hub! My great-great grandparents came from Sicily in the early 1900s. Anything Sicily fascinates me! This is definitely going down on my list of must-sees when I visit. You can always tell when the author has actually been to a place because they are so rich in detail. Thank you for the Hub!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on December 02, 2012:

Hi Bill. The cloister was a very peaceful spot given all of the tourists in the church itself. Glad you enjoyed the trip. Thanks so much as always.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 02, 2012:

I love the cloister for some reason. So simple and so lovely. We have an abbey nearby and they have one, and I always find it to be so peaceful.

Anyway, another great tour and I thank you Bill!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on December 02, 2012:

Hi Suzie. When we were in the cathedral I was thinking to myself, how on earth did they do this? And in 3 years? Simply amazing. I think the artists of that era knew a few things that we don't? When you get to Italy hopefully you'll have an opportunity to get to Sicily and Monreale.

Thanks so much for the vote, share, pin, etc. Have a great day.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on December 02, 2012:

Hi Carol. Thank you for the nice comments. Maybe some day I'll merge all of the travel hubs into a travel guide for Italy. Sounds like a fun idea. Glad you enjoyed the visit to Monreale and its wonderful cathedral.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on December 02, 2012:

Hi Luisa, Yeah, we didn't get to see everything we wanted to in Palermo so as you say, another reason to go back. Thanks so much for stopping by. Have a great day.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on December 02, 2012:

Hi Keala. I believe your son saw the Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo. We were close by but just ran out of time and did not get there. It was on our list of things to see but Palermo was our last stop in Sicily, we could have used another day or two to get to everything in Palermo.

Thanks so much for reading and commenting. The cathedral was amazing, especially that mosaic of Christ the Pantocrator.

Suzanne Ridgeway from Dublin, Ireland on December 02, 2012:

Hi Bill,

This is a great guide to a stunning cathedral. The mosaic work is highly impressive and to think it was completed in 3 years is amazing. The cloister is stunning with all its all its arches which I love in the Italian and Arabic architecture . Gorgeous photos throughout my friend in a super interesting article. VU, all the votes, sharing and pinning!

carol stanley from Arizona on December 02, 2012:

I was thinking after reading this hub about another beautiful place in Italy that you should have an Ebook on traveling in the country..just with your hubs alone. What a great travel guide through the country with so much detail and ways to navigate etc...Great hub and I always love the travel experience. voting UP.

Louisa Rogers from Eureka, California and Guanajuato, Mexico on December 02, 2012:

This is one of the places we didn't go to! Just another reason to go back there! Beautiful photos, thanks.

Hawaiian Odysseus from Southeast Washington state on December 01, 2012:

Beautiful hub, Bill! I had visions of someone looking like Charlton Heston creating that awesome mosaic of Christ the Pantocrator. LOL!

During grad school at Cal Poly, SLO, my son had an opportunity to visit Sicily. He mentioned caverns where these dead corpses were somehow attached to the walls. Did you and your family happen to tour that area? Was it near this awesome cathedral?

As always, you take your readers on a virtual tour through these amazing countries. This hub about a historical part of Sicily was certainly a visual and literary treat.

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