Photo of Monreale Cathedral

Visit Monreale Cathedral

The Sicilian town of Monreale is most visited because of its extensive 12th century cathedral complex: the cathedral at Monreale is built in a strategic position close to Palermo, on the south-west slope of Mount Caputo.

Monreale town developed around the Cathedral, the exterior of which gives little indication of the splendid interior that awaits the visitor. The extraordinary buildings of the abbey and monastery contain numerous highlights with more than a hectare (2.5 acres) of mosaics, numerous other artworks and an exceptional cloisters, and is an unmsissable highlight of your visit to north-east Sicily.

Explore the Cathedral at Monreale

Monreale cathedral is one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in existence and is one of the key sights of Sicily. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of a group of nine buildings comprising 'Arab-Norman Palermo and the churches of Cefalù and Monreale'.

If you are staying in Palermo, there is a regular bus service to Monreale from near the Royal Palace. The bus takes about 20 minutes. It would be possible to walk here but the road is long and not very interesting...

The façade of the cathedral consists of two large towers, which is typical of the Romanesque style of northern Italy, while the apses are decorated with decorative pointed arches in the Arab style, with geometric patterns.

The interior of the cathedral is of Basilical shape with three naves separated by columns. The three naves of the church each  have their own fabulous mosaics, consisting of about 130 artworks and with hundreds of figures covering a total of about 10,000 square meters.

Mozaics in Monreale cathedral

Monreale mosaics

The extensive and very beautiful mosaics are the highlight of your visit to Monreale cathedral. The arrangement of the subjects in the mosaics followed the structure and decoration of the Church itself. For example, in the main apse is the giant "Pantokràtor" (literally "The Creator of all things"), surrounded by the Archangels, Cherubim, Seraphim, Prophets, Apostles, Bishops and Saints.

In the two smaller side apses episodes from the life of Christ are shown (the baptism, the temptations, the court of Pilate, the ascent to Calvary, death, Resurrection), along with the most famous miracles (the story of the loaves and fishes, the healing of the centurion's servant, the rehabilitation of the crooked woman).

The nave is dedicated to the most important events in biblical history with stories from the Old Testament (the creation of the world, the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, Noah, Abraham, Lot, the destruction of Sodom, the fight between Jacob and the Angel).

These biblical stories are framed by the faces of hundreds of figures within medallions (angels, saints, doctors of the Church, martyrs, prophets, hermits).

Among these, the face of William II the Good stands out - he is shown twice; once above the royal throne, receiving the crown from Jesus Christ and in another medallion that shows William II offering the Church to the Virgin Mary.

 
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Beside the representations of the King there are also depictions of other contemporary figures, including some that were quite distant from the Norman Court. One striking striking example is Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was executed by King Henry II.

These extensive scenes are linked by a glittering mosaic fabric including floral wreaths, geometric compositions, colored stripes and acanthus leaves, creating a very bright background.

Unfortunately the artists of this masterpiece are unknown but we can say that the mosaics reflect the Byzantine and Romanesque style, and also Islamic influences. It is presumed that the work was done by local workers, artists from the east and perhaps even the Venetians. For such a substantial work to be completed in a very short time it seems probable that experienced artists were brought from Constantinople.

cloisters of Monreale cathedral

Monreale cathedral cloisters

After admiring the cathedral mosaics you can visit the cloister on the southern side of the church. The Cloister was also built for William II and is a remarkable example of Romanesque architecture.

Square in shape and 47 meters per side, the cloisters are surrounded by over 200 small twin columns that support pointed arches. A special column is decorated with gold, mosaics, precious stones and lava while the ornamental belt above the arches is made of lava and limestone.

All the capital stones are carved with subjects drawn from the Medieval “Bestiaries”, with Biblical and Pagan figures, allegories of the months, acanthus leaves, and symbolic elements that are hard to decode. On one capital the effigy of William II offering the Church to the Virgin can be seen.

Unlike the creators of the Mosaic, we do know at least the names of some of the the creators of the capitals - for example, engraved on a capital on the north side is "Romanus, son of Constantine, a marble worker”.

To the south-west of the cathedral you can also see the so-called “small cloister”, in whose center is a fountain that spurts water into the basin below.

Note: if you are visiting in early November a prestigious cultural event is held in Monreale: the “Week of Sacred Music”, when the cathedral brings together orchestras and choirs from around the world.

cloister detail at Monreale cathedral

Attractions nearby

You can learn more about the town itself in our Monreale travel guide.

Visitors to Monreale will probably stay in Palermo: on of our favourite towns in Italy where you can explore several other very beautiful churches with byzantine mosaics: see Palermo guide for details.

You can find more local travel ideas in and the Sicily guide.

See also Find Monreale Cathedral hotels

Photos of Monreale Cathedral

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Map of Monreale Cathedral and places to visit

 
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Monreale Cathedral places to visit

Monreale

Monreale

Best known for its remarkable cathedral and mosaics, Monreale also has a small historic centre to explore

Monreale guide
Palatine Chapel

Palatine Chapel

The Palatine Chapel in Palermo is a very beautiful church in the Byzantine style

Palatine Chapel guide
Palermo Royal Palace

Palermo Royal Palace

The Palermo Palace of the Normans is the oldest Royal Palace in Europe, and holds the Palatine Chapel and a museum as well as Sicilian government offices

Palermo Royal Palace guide
Palermo cathedral

Palermo cathedral

Palermo cathedral is an impressive cathedral with Arab-Norman origins

Palermo cathedral guide
Palermo church of Saint-Cataldo

Palermo church of Saint-Cataldo

The Church of San Cataldo is a beautifully restored 12th century church in the heart of Palermo

Palermo church of Saint-Cataldo guide
Palermo church of la Martorana

Palermo church of la Martorana

The church of la Martorana in Palermo has an exceptional interior of 12th century byzantine mosaics

Palermo church of la Martorana guide

...or see all our recommended places to visit in Sicily

 
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