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Monreale is a small town south of Palermo, and here you can find the most impressive cathedral of Sicily, you can even say it is one of Europe’s most impressive churches. It is the masterpiece of Norman architecture on Sicily, which in a unique way unites the style of the Normans, Arabians and Byzantine in one edifice.

The history of Monreale’s cathedral

Funnily, there were no religious reasons for building the cathedral in Monreale, but there were political ones. William II was king at that time. He wanted to take away power from the archbishop of Palermo who was a close ally of the pope, and the pope thirsted to gain more influence on Sicily. With building the cathedral, the position of the church in Palermo was weakened and its significance was diminished. But after William’s death, the cathedral lost its significance again. All that remains is a timeless work of art.

The outside of Monreale’s cathedral

Outside, the cathedral’s Eastside is certainly the most striking, as was built up with a combination of light and dark stones (Lava stone and limestone). The crossed pointed arches and the rich decoration put a stamp on this part of the cathedral. On the Westside, you can see the double tower which is typical for the Norman way of building, here with one of the towers remaining unfinished.

The interior of the cathedral

When entering the cathedral you may be enchanted immediately by the dusky golden brightness of the mosaics: they are mosaics in Byzantine style which were set up in a period of 10 years only by indigene and Byzantine artists. The mosaics cover all sides of the church, and what is especially impressive is the picture of Jesus Christ which is modelled in the chancel. When raising the view further up, there can be seen the rich-painted ceiling with its cross beams.

The church is completely dark and only by throwing a coin into a small slot machine the light in the transept and the chancel can be switched on. Normally it doesn’t take long until this happens as there are impressive amounts of tourists who are visiting this building.

Benedictine abbey

The second important sight in Monreale is the Benedictine abbey directly next to the cathedral. The cloister with its richly decorated pillars is the main attraction. They are surrounding a rectangular inner court which is shining in green with its exorbitant splendour of plants. The pillars are arranged in pairs, and on each side there are 26 pieces. No pillar is equal to the other, most of them are smooth and decorated either with coloured stones which are screwing themselves up round the pillars in a spiral line or with relieves. Here you can admire figures which are delicately worked out: griffins, arches, animals, plant, acrobats but also themes from the bible are dealt with. This abbey was founded, same as the cathedral, by order of Wilhelm II.

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