The Arabic Cathedral of Monreale

Just outside Palermo, in the charming little town of Monreale, lies possibly the most beautiful – and certainly the most exotic – cathedral in Europe.

Monreale Cathedral was built by King William II of Sicily in 1174. The architecture is Moorish Arabic, the interior is late Byzantine, and the layout is a fusion of Catholic and Eastern Orthodox convention. This style of architecture is known, in Sicily, as Norman.

I love this cathedral not only for its serenity and exceptional beauty, but for the uniquely Sicilian cultural fusion it represents. Sicily was invaded and occupied many times, and this multicultural island hosted immigrants of many faiths. Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Jews lived side by side peacefully. The Muslim rulers, in particular, taught genuine respect for all faiths and cultures.

The Muslims had ceased to rule Sicily over a hundred years ago, yet King William chose their style of architecture to built his great cathedral. Perhaps we have something to learn from those Sicilians of long ago?

Click on any picture to enlarge it or start the slide show

N.B. These photos were all taken by my talented sister Susanna.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Ohhh, that is so pretty.


  2. Tisha says:

    I do love that about Sicily… the multiple influences. Greek, Roman, Spanish, Arabic…
    It’s the same reason I can’t wait to visit Southern Spain, to see the traces of different religions and cultures blending in cities. 🙂


    1. Oooh yeah, you need about two weeks in Seville alone. Once you go to the south of Spain, you’ll probably never want to go home again!


  3. I love Sicily and I love your blog! I was in Palermo for only a few days but I’m sure I could spend a year bouncing around the island


    1. I’m glad you liked it! If you make it over here again, I can give you a recommended list of the best kept secret places to visit. 🙂


  4. Monreale is beautiful, but I adored the Cappella Palatina in Palermo. We only spent four days in Palermo, I really want to go back. My husband did manage to find the only gaming store ( as in tabletop RGPs, not video games) in Palermo – way, way on the other side of the Via di Liberta. To say that they were astonished to see Americans in their neighborhood was an understatement!


    1. I agree, the Cappella Palatina is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen – and I HAVE travelled an lot! I go there at least once a year as it does me good inside to see so much beauty. The last time I went I started chatting to an American and telling him the history of the place, and in the end a whole tour group gathered around me, thinking I was a professional tour guide!!! I really enjoyed myself!


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