In 2015 the Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalù and Monreale have been designated toghether as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Here is the full list of the monuments of the Arab-Norman circuit, UNESCO World Heritage Site 2015: the Royal Palace, the Palatine Chapel, the Martorana Church, the Church of San Cataldo, the Church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti, the Cathedral of Palermo, Zisa Palace, Admiral’s Bridge, Monreale Cathedral and cloister, Cefalù Cathedral.
Royal Palace – Palazzo Reale
It is likely that both the Phoenicians and the Romans built a fortress to dominate the entire city area on the hill where the palace is today. Nothing remains of these early buildings. The Arabs, after having built a castle for themselves, abandoned it, because the Emir preferred to move with all his officers and troops to the seaside region of Al-Halisah.
Thanks to the Normans the building became a splendid Palace trough restoration and transformation. The heart of it was a very spacious aula regia, also known as aula verde, where the king had meetings and banquets. The apartments, toilets, and staff quarters were located in different wings, connected by terraces, balconies and gardens rich in green and water basins with an Arabian flair.
From the stylistic point of view, the palace is the most important example of western Fatimid palatial art, both for the architectural characteristics and also for the decorations that artists lavished in the differents rooms. After 1250, when Frederick II died, the decline of the palace began, and continued for about three centuries, untill the Spanish viceroys chose it as their residence. On one hand, they saved the building from complete abandonment, on the other, they changed it to suit their taste modifing its original look The building still contains at least two Arab-Norman jewels of extraordinary beauty: the Sala di Ruggero and the Palatine Chapel.
The Sala di Ruggero was originally a bedroom. It is a panoramic room facing Palermo’s Bay. The walls are elegantly decorated with mosaics representing hunting scenes animated by figures and stylised plants. It is a rare example of the secular mosaic art of that time, which immerses its roots in the Persian East and North Africa.
Palatine Chapel. Started in 1130, the year of the coronation of Ruggero II, the first king of Sicily. It has been completed in 13 years and consacrated ,according to an inscription in the dome, in 1143. In this church, defined by Maupassant as: ” the finest religious jewel ever dreamed up by the human mind”, we are able to enjoy the fusion of contrasting cultures and styles showing that Sicily has always been the meeting place amoung various ethnic groups: Arabs, Byzantine and Northern Europeans.