Monreale trip planner

A cathedral glittering with mosaics next to an idyllic cloister in the hills above Palermo

In a church on a hillside 8km (5 miles) south of Palermo lies the greatest medieval mosaic cycle in Europe.

The polychrome scenes on a shimmering gold background literally carpet the walls, arches, and apses of mighty Monreale, the last and greatest of Sicily's Norman cathedrals.

When Palermo's British bishop Walter of the Mill starting building the downtown duomo, young King William II decided in 1174 to flex his independence from that ecclesiastical potentate by raising his own cathedral outside the city. It's one of the most visually sumptuous day trips you can take anywhere in Italy.

Even if you have only one day in Palermo, spend half of it here; nothing in town can compare.

The cathedral of Monreale

Few people do not gasp in awe when they enter this cathedral, swathed with 68,472 square feet of luminous ★★★ mosaic. The interior is like the Cappella Palatina writ large; it competes with St. Mark's of Venice as the most mosaicked church in Christendom—only less well lit, since few visitors arrive with a bag of coins to feed the many light boxes.

Although not the pinnacle of the Greek craftsmen's artistic prowess, they are nonetheless excellently executed and many panels do stand out, none more magnificently than the 66-foot-high, kindly eyed, and all-embracing Christ Pantocrater in the main apse.

The two side apses are dedicated to St. Paul (left) and St. Peter (right) respectively.

Among the dozens of scenes lining of the walls, be on the lookout for St. Paul Being Lowered from the Walls of Damscus rather unceremmoniously in a basket (in the left apse chapel), The Miraculous Capture of the Fishes with two very pleased fishermen netting a good catch and a St. Peter swimming along in prayer (left transept), a very young, Jesus-looking God Creating the Fish and the Birds (left nave wall), and my favorite, the beautifully wrought Christ Walking on Water (left aisle wall).

The restored wood ceiling of the nave is gorgeous, too, and don't forget to look down once in a while at the marble inlay work on the floor.

The Duomo itself is admission-free and open 9:30am to noon and 3:30 to 5:30pm.

The cloisters at Monreale

The attached monastery preserves the beautiful and serene ★★ cloisters, a festival of pointed arches supported by twin columns, each pair different from the last: some carved or twisted, some plain, and many inlaid with colored marble and gold mosaic chips in geometric patterns.

Every column capital, too, is unique, carved in a beautifully symbolic medieval style with mythological figures and religious scenes.

In the corner, several columns section off a tiny courtyard surrounding a strange, bulbous-headed column that serves as a fountain.

Even with the bused-in tour groups, these cloisters manage to retain a relaxed, contemplative air, helping make this day trip a double escape from the urban chaos of Palermo.

The cloisters (tel. 091-640-4403) are open Tuesday to Saturday 9am–7pm, Sunday and Monday 9am to 1:30pm; last admisison is 30 minutes before closing. (Adm)

Lunch in Monreale

La Fattoria. Get down-home cooking and ridiculously huge portions on the road up from Palermo. Hearty choices include cannelloni alla casalinga (a baked casserole of fresh pasta sheets wrapped around meat and ricotta topped with tomatoes and cheese), and roast chicken. Via Circonvallazione di Monreale 26. tel. +39-091-640-1134. Closed Mon.

An agriturimo near Monreale

Casale del Principe, San Giuseppe Jato - "Hotels are too cold. They give you a room and that's it," says Tamara Amadei, manager of this 18th-century Jesuit monastery–turned–agricultural estate that rises above a farmland of poppies, vineyards, and olive and fruit orchards just 15 minutes from the glittering cathedral in Monreale. "An agriturismo provides a family experience," she continues, listing some of the activities offered, from cooking and ceramics courses to horseback rides and archery. Geese chatter in a fountain by the stairs leading up into the ancient masseria (stone farmhouse), which has been expanded to house the agriturismo operations... » more

More hotels in Monreale

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Details

For more info:
There istourist office to the left of the cloisters entrance
Piazza V. Emanuele (tel. +39-091-646-6070),
Open Mon–Sat 8:30am–1:30pm; Tues & Thurs 3:30pm–5:30pm

Duomo di Monreale
Piazza Duomo 1, Monreale
tel. +39-091-640-4413
www.cattedralemonreale.it

Cathedral interior:

Open Daily 9:30am–noon, 3:30–5:30pm
Free adm

Cloisters:
Open Tues–Sat 9am–7pm
Open Sun–Mon 9am–1:30pm
Adm: €2

How to get to Monreale

Take bus 389 from Palermo's Piazza Indipendenza right to the cathedral.

Visitor information

Monreale has a tourist office to the left of the cloisters entrance on Piazza V. Emanuele (tel. +39-091-646-6070), open Monday to Saturday 8:30am to 1:30pm, and Tuesday and Thursday again from 3:30pm to 5:30pm.

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Details

For more info:
There istourist office to the left of the cloisters entrance
Piazza V. Emanuele (tel. +39-091-646-6070),
Open Mon–Sat 8:30am–1:30pm; Tues & Thurs 3:30pm–5:30pm

Duomo di Monreale
Piazza Duomo 1, Monreale
tel. +39-091-640-4413
www.cattedralemonreale.it

Cathedral interior:

Open Daily 9:30am–noon, 3:30–5:30pm
Free adm

Cloisters:
Open Tues–Sat 9am–7pm
Open Sun–Mon 9am–1:30pm
Adm: €2


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