Fri 10 Feb 2012
The permanent rush and lack of time obliged me to abandon in the middle the writing of the travel notes cycles. I did not have time to continue the notes about my trip as Tourist in Romania made in October 2010, and I also left aside a lot of photos and memories from our trips to Sicily and Taiwan last fall. I will try to pick them one by one, time allowing, and I hope to do it before I forget everything.
Mount Etna put aside there are two places which make by themselves worth a journey to Sicily. I already wrote about the Valley of the Temples, time has come to write about the Duomo in Monreale. Located on a hill near Palermo, this is one of the most impressive and original monuments of religious art and architecture in the Mediterranean area. Beware about the ten minutes walk from the cars parking to the top of the hill, via a tourist market.
The actual church started to be raised in the second half of the 12th century, during the rule of the Norman king William II. The construction lasted only eleven years, but the internal decoration continued for tens of years and the style of the building and the decoration are witness to the crossword location of Sicily during that period, a place where Western Christianity met and fought the political, military and cultural influences of the Arab and Eastern Christianity (byzantine) civilizations. The result is a wonder of fusion between the Normand, Arab and Byzantine styles of a richness and beauty that equals the most significant monuments from the same period in Spain for example.
The huge mosaic portrait of Christ Pantocrator (“Ruler of All”) dominates the apse, and this kind of huge portraits is typical for the Sicilian churches from that period (we were to see it later in the day at the church in Cefalu). Golden yellow is the dominant color, with an amazing brightness, freshness and monumental expressiveness.
The fine lines of the pillars combine the Greek structure which was probably inspired by the artisans of the time by the remains of the Greek temples on the island and the mosaics on the arches which have a visible imprint of the Islamic art.
To me however the most striking impression was the one of the mosaics in the whole church, and especially in the nave, where are depicted scenes from the Old Testament. Above are Adam and Eve for example. The mosaics were created by artists from Venice, and their size is second only to the Hagia Sophia.
Another episode from the Bible above – Sodom and Gomorrah. The composition in registries and the iconography closer to the Eastern Ortodox style remind painted walls of the the monasteries in Bucovina, in Northern Romania.
The combination of arches and mosaics bring together elements of Western church architecture, Eastern church iconography, and Arab style ornamentation.
Here is what looks like Magen David (Star of David) motif on the decoration of the walls, not necessarily a Jewish element, as the geometric form is widely used also as an Arabic decoration pattern.
Here is a photo of the remarkable decoration of the marble floors.
Unfortunately the time we spent in the cathedral was quite short, and the guide did not allow for time to visit the cloisters or admire the view from the terraces which is said to be magnificent. This is certainly a place that a few hours for visiting, but we were under the constraints of a guided tour. As the tour also skipped the most important monument in Palermo itself – the Palatine Chapel, we have a good reason to be back there sometime.