Palermo, Monreale & Cefalù
The best of Arab-Norman architecture in Sicily and some of the most splendid Byzantine mosaics anywhere.
A NOTE ABOUT DRIVING TIMES
About 3 hours in total. Palermo-Monreale, 30 min. Monreale-Cefalù, 75 min. Cefalù-Palermo, 75 min.
DETAILS: PALERMO, MONREALE & CEFALÙ from Palermo
Palermo is a place where grit and grace collide, where the raw energy of its open-air markets recalling its Arab occupation sit alongside the decorative splendor of its Baroque landmarks.
In the ancient world Palermo occupied a strategic position and was invaded by pretty much all the significant cultural powers throughout the ages: from the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians to the Romans, Saracens, and Normans to the French, Spanish, and Bourbons. The result is a fascinating fusion of Western, Islamic and Byzantine influences that you can see not only in its architecture and monuments but also in its people and cuisine.
With such a rich past it's no surprise that Palermo is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We'll cover the most popular cultural highlights, including:
- the church of S. Cataldo, the church of the Martorana
- Quattro Canti (Four Corners), an octagonal piazza containing four nearly identical Baroque buildings and sculptures depicting the four seasons, the four Spanish kings of Sicily, and the four patronesses of Palermo
- Teatro Politeama, originally built as a multi-purpose theatre, it now houses the Orchestra Sinfonica Siciliana
- the Norman Palace and its Palatine Chapel from the 12th Century containing spectacular Byzantine mosaics
- Piazza Pretoria with its beautiful Renaissance fountain, commonly referred to as "The Fountain of Shame"
- Palazzo delle Aquile (Palace of the Eagles)
- Capo street market, where Palermo's Arab origins are still alive in this souk-like environment
- the Duomo (cathedral)
The main attraction in Monreale is the Norman-Byzantine cathedral from the 12th century, one of the greatest examples of Norman architecture in existence anywhere. Its mostly plain exterior belies the splendor that lies within -- the largest cycle of Byzantine mosaics in all of Italy. The shimmering glass and gold cover 6500 m2, about 70,000 square feet. You'll take a zillion photos but nothing can compare to seeing it with your own eyes.
Pretty as a picture-postcard (and about the same size), Cefalù is a tiny place that attracts a huge number of visitors each year. Not only does it have many cultural and architectural points of interest but its cristalline sea and spectacular sunsets are a huge draw as well.
In the Medieval section of the town we will take a little walk along Corso Ruggero, Cefalù's main thoroughfare, where you'll get a look at the Osterio Magno, a fortified palace built in Norman times, perhaps as a residence for the king. The street itself dates back to Roman times (1st Century BC).
The cathedral of Cefalù, built by Roger the Second in 1131, is an outstanding example of Norman Romanesque architecture in Sicily. It marks a time of great splendor in the history of Cefalù, not only for its size and grandeur but also for its Byzantine mosaics created by artisans brought from Constantinople. In sharp contrast to this is the communal washing place, where Cefalù's citizens came to wash their clothes until only 50 years ago.
Besides the beauty of village and sea, Cefalù also has a nice assortment of boutiques, particularly for clothes and shoes.
PALERMO, MONREALE & CEFALÙ from Palermo
DURATION: 8 hrs
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