We got really brave today and ventured out in the car to visit the magnificent UNESCO World Heritage site of Monreale Cathedral. The roads were surprisingly quiet (perhaps because it was Sunday) and in no time we were parking in a local carpark just a short walk from the Cathedral.
From the outside the Norman Cathedral the Moorish influence is obvious with delicate patterning hinting at what can be found in the exquisite and grand interior.
Having been converted to a mosque during the Arab occupation beginning in the C9th, the church reverted to Cathedral status again when the Normans drove the Arabs out two centuries later and it presents a wonderful mix of Arabic, Byzantine and Norman styles – in both the architecture and the dazzling mosaic art within.
When we reached the Cathedral the huge C12th bronze doors with panels depicting scenes from the Old and New Testament were open:
Mass was being celebrated but there were many people standing at the back, taking photos – among them our guide Claudia from the previous day. We assumed it OK to be there but it seemed intrusive so we left. Once Mass had finished the doors were closed until they re-opened at two thirty, so we explored the local area before sitting down to lunch in a trattoria adjacent to Church. We found our way into the peaceful public garden beside the Cathedral too which offers a good view down to the bay.
Closer to opening time, the town started filling up with visitors and we joined a higgledy-piggeldy queue to it in. It was certainly worth wait. The interior is truly spectacular:
There is no entrance fee for the Cathedral but there is a charge if you want to ascend the tower – two Euro and it is worth it provided you are not claustrophobic … while the entrance initally is quite wide, it quickly becomes quite narrow and dark – but braving it offers you not only a great view of the magnificent cloisters which you can see as you cross an open-air part of the roof, but also continuing on to the top offers panoramic views of the city and town below.
With our visit to the stunning Monreale Cathedral complete we made our way back to Mondello to pack up and say goodbye to our lovely host Robert. The final leg of our journey was about to begin – the ferry trip from Palermo to Naples and the drove on to Rome.
Next Post – The Ferry to Naples and on to Rome…