Palermo Cathedral

Detail

The Cathedral of Palermo is part of the Arab-Norman Palermo route and the Cathedrals of Cefalù and Monreale UNESCO World Heritage.

It is located in the oldest sacred area of Palermo, where the Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines and Arabs had previously built their own places of worship. When the Normans took power, they immediately replaced the Muslim mosque with a Christian church. However, the archbishop of Palermo, Gualtiero Offamilio, had the building demolished in 1184 and began the construction of a new splendid cathedral, a symbol of religious power in the city. A year later, the church was consecrated and dedicated to Maria Assunta.

Over the course of the following centuries, additions and restorations modified the original building. This union of apparently incongruous different styles gives life to a grandiose and harmonious whole.

Clamped between the high towers with mullioned windows and columns, the façade is joined by two ogival arches pointing to the bell tower that faces it. A large fourteenth-century portal is opened by bronze doors. The long right side is adorned with a scenic portico in Gothic-Catalan style, under there is a very ornate portal, also from the fifteenth century. The apse is particularly beautiful and charming, and is the only that has retained its original shapes from the twelfth century. The large, white interior is cold compared to the exterior.

Aligned along the walls are marble statues by the Gagini school depicting saints. In the first and second chapels of the right aisle there are the royal and imperial burials. Those resting there include Roger II, Henry VI of Swabia, Constance of Altavilla and Frederick II of Swabia, all in imposing porphyry sarcophagi. The family tomb therefore houses the founder of the Norman kingdom of Sicily, its destroyer, the involuntary cause of its end and its last beneficiary.

Among the numerous chapels, special mention goes to that of Santa Rosalia, where the ashes of the patron saint of Palermo are kept in a silver urn from 1631 (the celebrations in her honour are some of the most emotional and exciting in Sicily).

Finally, the treasure is remarkable, and includes precious objects and embroideries found in royal and imperial tombs (in particular, note the golden tiara of Constance of Aragon), vestments, goblets and monstrances.

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