Palermo: No Surface Left Unadorned

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.

The Tower of Babel

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.

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  1. Ingrid Nyeboe:

    Lots of parallels to where we are: La Serenissima. Louise and I took Amanda and Felix to Murano where we visited Santa Maria e San Donato, with impressive mosaic covering the entire apse and with a mosaic floor so exquisite, you just want to stay there and explore all its variations.
    AND this one is so over the top you can barely manage to stay inside to view all the extravaganza,_Venice

  2. Did you get to see the State Rooms with the leopard mosaics? They were closed for a state visit when we bought our tickets for the Palatine Chapel. And have you visited the essential cannoli shop in the albergheria district, a block away from the market?

    For baroque/rococo craziness, I preferred Santa Caterina and a little church on the Capo market thoroughfare. Anyway, you’ll have been getting plenty of Baroque thrills in Siracusa…
    David N´s last blog post ..Rosenkavalier classes: let in the light

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