The Palatine Chapel is the place that alone is worth a visit to Palermo. Its construction, started in 1130, the year when Roger II became the first king of Sicily, was completed over a 15-year period and it was consecrated, according to an inscription in its dome, in 1143. This church, “the most beautiful religious jewel ever dreamed by human thought ” in Maupassant‘s words, manages to blend, mixing them together, the multiple characters that haved formed Sicily: European, Sicilian, Byzantine and Arabic.
The chapel has the shape of a basilica of del Western world, with three naves separated by granite columns with rich gilded Corinthian capitals; also Western-style, though influenced by southern taste, the decorated floors and the inlays of steps, balustrades and of the lower part of the walls, as well as the huge ambon (the platform from which the sermon was delivered ), made of gold, malachite and porphyry and the Easter candelabrum, donated by Archbishop Ugo of Palermo for the coronation of William, son of Roger II.
Its mosaics are among the most beautiful Byzantine art production, they have no equal in any church of Constantinople. The most ancient mosaics, that is the Christ Pantocrator in the dome, the angels surrounding him and the Evangelists absorbed in their studies, stand out among the others. The Islamic tradition is finally recognizable in the wooden “muqarnas” decorated ceiling, a very unlikely covering for a Christian church. You would rather expect to find it in larger, elegant mosques, but never in a church. Intricate decorations, including human figures, adorn the stalactites which makes it unique as example in the Islasmic art history. The arabian artists, in the tolerant atmosphere of the Norman Palermo, decided to hazard this type of figures. So now, with the help of a binoculars, we can observe realistic scenes of daily life of dignitaries and busy maidservants.