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The Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily

Updated on June 8, 2017
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Traveling has always been one of my passions. It exposes us to new cultures, experiences, and makes the world a better, more tolerant place.

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Perched on the slopes of Monte Caputo, just a few kilometers outside of Palermo, Sicily, is perhaps the finest example of Norman architecture ever constructed in Sicily. If you are planning a visit to Sicily, 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

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.

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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.

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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 | Source

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.

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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.

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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.

Wooden Beam Ceiling

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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

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

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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.

Terrace

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 From the Terrace

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The cathedral is open Monday to Saturday from 8am to 1pm, and 2:30pm to 6:30pm. On Sunday the hours are 8am to 1pm. 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.

Sicily

A markerMonreale, Sicily -
Monreale, Province of Palermo, Italy
get directions

A markerMonreale, Sicily -
Monreale, Province of Palermo, Italy
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© 2012 Bill De Giulio

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    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      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 profile image

      rose-the planner 4 years ago from Toronto, Ontario-Canada

      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

    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

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

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 4 years ago from USA

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

    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      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...

    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      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.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

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

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      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.

    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      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 Jean Mckay profile image

      Fiona 4 years ago from South Africa

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

    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      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 W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      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.

    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      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.

    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      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.

    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      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.

    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      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.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      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!

    • mollymeadows profile image

      Mary Strain 4 years ago from The Shire

      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!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      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.

    • MrsBkay profile image

      Britney 4 years ago from Southern California Desert

      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!

    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      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.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      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!

    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      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.

    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      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.

    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      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.

    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      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.

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 4 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      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!

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 4 years ago from Arizona

      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 profile image

      Louisa Rogers 4 years ago from Eureka, California and Guanajuato, Mexico

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

    • hawaiianodysseus profile image

      Hawaiian Odysseus 4 years ago from Southeast Washington state

      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.