Monreale is the main attraction outside Palermo.
Having grown up since the 13th century around the
Benedectine monastery on the site,
the current appearance of the town is Baroque,
but it clusters round one of the rarest jewels of Italy’s
artistic heritage: the Duomo of Monreale,
an extraordinary architectural achievement by any standard,
an outstanding blend of Arabic, Byzantine and Romanesque styles.
William II founded it in 1174,
he was the last of the great Norman Kings,
the addition of the Abbey soon completed
the Royal Palace and the Archbishop’s Palace,
forming a single complex.
The top of the facade,
framed by two mighty towers,
is decorated by intersecting blind arcading
and is preceded by an 18th century porch over a portal
decorated with carving and bands of mosaic.
The bronze doors, by Bonanno Pisano (1186),
depict Biblical scenes with inscriptions in the vernacular.
On the left side of the Cathedral is a 16th century porch,
underneath which is a bronze portal with panels bearing
reliefs (depicting the Saints) by Barisanus of Trani (1179).
A polychrome inlay work in limestone and lava
inlay work in limestone and lava.
The Monreale Duomo interior
The interior is built on a basilica plan with a nave and two
side-aisles separated by columns,
most of them re-used columns from classical sites.
The beams supporting the roof were replaced after
the fire of 1811,
wheres the mosaic floor is original.
The upper walls are decorated with mosaics on a gold
background which cover a total area of 6340 squared metres
dating from 12th and 13th centuries.
They depict the cycle of the Old and New Testament,
with inscriptions in Latin and Greek.
Those in the nave depict the Stories of Genesis and in
the central apse,
the figures of the Virgin Enthroned, Angels,
Apostles and Saints
below the figure of Christ Pantocrator.
Above the two thrones, at the sides of the sanctuary
are two panels.
One depicts William II as he receives the Crown from Christ;
the other depicts William II in the act of offering the
church to the Virgin Mary.
The left-hand side of the sanctuary leads into the 17th century
Cappella del Crocifisso,
built on a hexagonal plan.
From here there is access to the Treasury,
which contains Gothic reliquaries and sacred objects and
vestments dating from the 13th to 17th centuries.
Stairs lead up to the terraces above the Duomo,
from where is a splendid view over the Conca d’oro.
To the right of the facade of the Duomo is the entrance
to the magnificent Cloister.