"Monreale is the swan-song of the art of the Norman Age." So begins my book about the Cathedral of Monreale near Palermo, Sicily. It was one of the last places I visited in 2006 during my month-long stay in this most marvelous country. Monreale was the brainchild of William II (1153 - 1189), the last of the great Norman Kings of Sicily. Apparently, one day while hunting in his park, the King fell asleep and was visited in his dreams by a lady (the Madonna). She indicated to him the place where his father's treasure was hidden and later, the King did unearth it. In gratitude, he decided to erect a temple dedicated to the Virgin Mary on Monte Reale. However, King William died before seeing the cathedral completed. In 1267, a century after the commencement of work, the church was solemnly consecrated by an envoy of Pope Clement IV. The interior of the cathedral is a masterpiece of late Romanesque architecture and consists of three aisles terminating in a transept and three apses. An immense mosaic tapestry covers the greater part of the walls. There are 18 antique granite columns and one in cipolin marble. The marble tombs of William I and William II are situated in the right wing of the transept.
While visiting Monreale, I sat transfixed in the main chapel. Everywhere you look - up, down, left, right, straight ahead and behind - you will see the most magnificent architecture and artwork! Mosaics, sculptures, bronze leafs, tapestries, arches with decorative motifs. We stayed more than half day, wandering both inside and outside along the cloisters. There are several portals and smaller cathedrals inside the main structure and we were awed by the majesty of the art. The artwork describes the story of the Christian Bible from creation to the miracles of Jesus Christ. There is literally far too much to describe in this little post, but trust me in saying that it is definitely a major must-see if you are ever in Sicily! Below is a confessional, a statue of King William offering the cathedral to the Virgin Mary, and a photo of the main chapel.