The Palatine Chapel is one of those must-see places if ever you have the chance. It was commissioned by the enlightened Norman King Roger II (Ruggero) and was consecrated on Palm Sunday 1140. It was designated a UNESCO World heritage site in 2015.
It’s inside the palace of the Norman kings of Sicily that now serves as Sicily’s seat of the regional government..
It’s a extraordinary example of Arab-Norman art – step inside and you are immersed in glittering surfaces, intricate mosaics and glowing iconography. The wooden ceiling is hard to make out in detail without binoculars but is covered with intricate paintings of Bible stories and court life..
The chapel clearly shows the influence and presence of Islamic art and design. King Roger spoke fluent Arabic and his court was a tolerant meeting place where knowledge and learning were respected and flourished. It was there that the Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi wrote the Tabula Rogeriana – a cartographic representation of Europe and Asia. He calculated the circumference of the world to within 10 degrees of accuracy. The chapel is a great symbol of that cross-cultural collaboration.
The mosaics on the walls and pillars tell the Biblical stories from the old and new testaments with great clarity and detail. They are examples of extraordinary craft and artistry.
Outside, the star around the chapel bell is adorned with lights for Christmas.
En route to the next destination we walked through the Ballarò market just as the stalls were closing up for the day. Rain earlier in the day meant that the washing hanging from the balconies was covered with large plastic sheets.
At the end of the street we could see the dome of our next destination: The Chiesa del Gesu di Casa Professa. Apart from the dome the exterior of the church is unprepossessing, plain and rather austere. Inside it is something else altogether!
The church was founded by the Jesuits when they arrived in Sicily in the 16th century and was badly damaged by bombing in 1943. The current ceiling, for example, is modern and some of the marbles are recreations of the original.
So step inside and you are surrounded by a riot of over-the-top stucco and ornate decoration. No surface is left unadorned.
Every surface is encrusted in a completely euphoric over-the-top display. An abundance of cherubs cheerfully doing what cherubs do – holding flowers and musical instruments and piercing devils with spears prance around the chancel. And everywhere you look a riot of color and design.