I visited all the sites in this soon-to-be inscribed WHS in May 2015. Palermo itself has 7 sites. Most have been restored and cleaned up prior to this year's WH Conference. The main landmark in Palermo and the most beautiful site for its exterior is Palermo's Cathedral. The sheer size and sculpted details on the facade, towers and rear side of the cathedral are worth a trip to Palermo alone. Yet the jewel of Palermo is the Palatine Chapel and the royal apartments with their marvelous "golden" mosaics. It is always pretty crowded and there are no chairs to sit down and stay in awe. The presbitery treasures are also of outstanding beauty as are the royal rooms housed in the Norman Palace. Another Norman palace and the third site I visited was the Zisa Palace famous for the quadri-lingual stonepiece. Just outside of the Royal Palace and the Palatine Chapel is another stonepiece but it's tri-lingual and without mosaics. After the Zisa Palace, which is quite distant from the city centre proper, is the Admiral's bridge now standing in a rather shabby urban part of Palermo but nonetheless its condition is very good. The other three sites of Palermo which are mentioned in the very detailed nomination file and worth viewing are the Church of San Cataldo (with its 3 red domes, the Church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio just next to it with its minaret like bell tower and its intricate Byzantine mosaics (I visited at 08:30 and attended mass here) and the Monumental Complex of San Giovanni degli Eremiti with its 5 red domes (best viewed from the Bell tower nearby to also enjoy the best panoramic view of Palermo). I spent two nights in Palermo and then I visited Cefalu' for a day trip and Monreale for a half day trip. Cefalu' is around 80km from Palermo and it's a quaint seaside town with a lovely sandy beach and high rocky hills. The Cefalu' Cathedral is nothing special from the outside and the interior mosaics only cover the presbitery area. It reminded me a lot of Porec in Croatia. Last but not least, I visited the Monreale Cathedral. The exterior is much more elaborate and the rear exterior part of the cathedral is very similar to the Mudejar/Moorish architecture I've seen in Zaragoza. The interior mosaics are in very good condition and are the entrance and visit is free of charge and there are chairs to sit down and gaze at the mosaic masterpieces. The bookshop sells a very informative mosaic map for 1 euro just outside the church and audio guides are also available. Both in Cefalu' and in Monreale, I enjoyed visiting the cathedral inner courtyards with their ornate sculpted columns and naves. All in all, this is a great addition to Italy's extensive WH list and a true highlight of Sicily.
Date posted: May 2015 Jorge Sanchez (Spain):
Sicily Island is a country in itself. There is plenty of history and wonderful places to visit.
During the week that I spent there I did not miss Palermo, of course, Siracusa, Catania, Agrigento and Cefalu.
In Cefalu you can get cheap boats to the Eolie Islands, but since I was short of money, I did not take it. Instread, in Porto Empedocles, near Agrigento, I boarded a ferry to lampedusa Island.
When I visited Cefalu (mainly the churches, since I love to visit religious places) some people told me about the house where an English mystic of the XX century (and also a Himalaya climber), named Aleister (Alexander) Crowley, lived some years and called it Abbey of Theleme, and learnt that it was abandoned after Mussolini expelled him from Italy because of his esoteric practices. Anyway I went up there just for curiosity, near the stadium premises, and saw it with the roof destroyed, walled by the local authorities in order to prevent people from entering, and full with grasses and herbs almost covering it.
I could distinguish painting in its walls, but did not dare to climb to the place, since it was fenced.
One of the most interesting visits in Palermo city (I would say the best) is the Palazzo dei Normanni, dating from the IX century, in the times of the Muslims invaders. Entry fee is not expensive. In the ground floor you can admire some archeological ruins, but the best is located on the first floor, where a very well preserved chapel is located. It is called Capella Palatina, it is devoted to Saint Peter and shows Byzantine reminiscence in its construction. Its mosaics, the throne, and the atmosphere are unusual causing a feeling of beauty, elegance and perfection.
The day when I visited the Palazzo there was an exposition of the film Il Gattopardo, related with the history of Palermo
Date posted: September 2013
Have you been to Arab-Norman Palermo and the cathedral churches of Cefalù' and Monreale? Share your experiences!