Another Header

October 9, 2017

Sicily: Palermo’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of Virgin Mary
Cattedrale metropolitana della Santa Vergine Maria Assunta, Palermo’s Cathedral, is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site.

By the time we arrived in Palermo Sicily, we were definitively on our way back to France. Weather reports told us that it was cold and rainy up north. Being thin-blooded, we planned to shiver through France as quickly as possible. We would stop briefly to winterize our barge Wanderlust at her mooring on the Saone and then head to Paris for the flight back to the States. The 2016 European road trip was coming to a rapid close.

Palermo was an ideal penultimate stop. We had visited the city before. As we arrived weaving through the chaotic Palermo traffic we figured that we’d seen most of the must see sights. If we survived the road to our hotel we could kick back and slowly soak up the food, the lowbrow street life and culture, and the pleasant weather.

The tourist office in Palermo must go through a lot of highlighters.

Palermo Cathedral

But once in Palermo the notion that we had already seen most of city’s attractions was quickly disposed of with a stop in at the tourist office. As the agent in the office was rapidly circling and marking twenty-odd places on the map for us to visit, it was clear that there was much more left to see in the city than we realized. Four days more in Palermo would be woefully inadequate.

The highlight of any visit to Palermo is the Arab-Norman architecture that has warranted the World Heritage designation from UNESCO. It is fair to say that of the UNESCO World Heritage sites we have visited, the “Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale” is a favorite. We’d previously seen examples of the architecture honored by UNESCO at the nearby cathedral in Monreale. At our last stop was in Cefalú where we visited the town’s UNESCO church. Both are worth the effort to get to.

Golden mosaics surround the alter in the Palatine Chapel at the Norman Palace.

Palazzo dei Normanni (Palace of the Normans)

Intricate details of the Palatine Chapel

The Arab-Norman 12th Century architecture in this part of Sicily is the result of a trans-cultural collaboration between the Norsemen and the Arabs. The Normans were known as brutal conquerors. With the blessings of the Pope, the Normans took control of Sicily during the 11th Century. Though in combat they were ruthless, the Normans were also known for assimilating the cultures of the peoples that they conquered. This unusual aspect of Norman rule informed the architecture of this area of Sicily. It is what produced the distinctive buildings that can be seen today.

A characteristic of the Arab-Norman architecture is the golden religious mosaics on the inside walls of some of the churches. Examples of this artwork can be seen in the interior of the duomo in Monreale, the church in Cefalú, and the Palatine Chapel inside the walls of the Norman’s Royal Palace or Palazzo dei Normanni. Pictures do not do justice to the feeling of seeing these in person; it feels as if you’ve stepped inside of some sort of golden artwork.

As the tourist office agent had made clear on the map, there’s far more to see in the city. This time, as before, our visit to Palermo and Sicily seemed to be sadly short. But what could we do? The only firm date of our road trip was the flight back to the States. And that date was approaching rapidly. There’s never enough time, is there?

Porta Nuova

Looking up inside the Palatine Chapel

On a tour of the roof of Palermo’s cathedral


1 Comment »

  1. […] Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale […]

    Pingback by The List | Another Header — October 26, 2018 @ 8:55 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: