The Church of la Martorana, Palermo is an impressive 12th century byzantine church

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Visit Palermo church of la Martorana

The Church of la Martorana is one of three interesting churches on Piazza Bellini in the centre of Palermo, an important town in the northern region of Sicily.

The church is more officially called the church of Santa-Maria dell'Ammiraglio: Ammiraglio is Italian for admiral, and the chapel was founded by a Greek admiral called George of Antioch, the first Norman ruler of Sicily, under King Roger II of Sicily

Explore the Church of la Martorana in Palermo

Italy This Way comment: the Church of la Martorana is very interesting because of its remarkable byzantine mosaics which are among the finest in Italy, and the later baroque decoration - which is apparently not highly regarded but we thought it was very attractive!

Facade and belltower of the church of Santa-Maria dell'Ammiraglio in Palermo

History and architecture of the church of La Martorana

Before you start your visit you should admire the facade of the church from the centre of Piazza Bellini, which is the best place to understand the mixed architecture of the building.

To the left, the main body of the church is simple in design with a row of arched windows but little decoration. This original part of the church was built in the middle of the 12th century with a simple cross layout and a dome above the centre of the cross. It was originally built as a private chapel that was dedicated to the Virgin, and decorated in the byzantine style.

During the following century, a porch was added to the front of the church to hold the tomb of George of Antioch and his wife. This was then extended to add a hall to this side of the church, and then to the right you can see the belltower, with a porch at ground level and a series of three rows of open arches above.

The baroque facade, a very typical example of the baroque style, with two marble columns either side of the doorway and decorative carvings around the windows, was of course added several centuries later.

Interior of the church of La Martorana

You enter the church through the porch underneath the belltower, at the top of a flight of stairs. You immediately see the view along the single nave to the apse, with the marble coluns, baroque paintings and byzantine mosaics all competing for your attention! There had just been a wedding when we visited so we were lucky enough to also see the church decorated with hundreds of flowers!

The interior of la Martorana follows the same combination of styles as the outside, with the part nearest the entrance in the baroque style, and the furthest part in the byzantine style with many mosaics on the walls and ceiling and in the dome, and is generally considered to have some of the most impressive mosaics that exist from this period.

The most impressive mosaic is in the dome and shows Christ in a specific form known as a Pantocrator, with the gesture of the right hand representing the Trinity, the physical world and the spiritual world, and the book in the left hand bringing the message of God to the people. As here, the letters IC XC are also often seen next to the Pantocrator, and are the first and last letters of the words Jesus Christ in Greek (Ιησούς Χριστός).

The mosaic of Christ is surrounded by four archangels, eight prophets from the Old Testament and the Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John from the New Testament. The two main mosaics on the walls show George of Antioch with the Virgin, and King Roger, the Norman King at this time, being given the crown by Jesus.

The more recent part of the church is covered with baroque paintings from the early part of the 18th century, which are colourful but of less artistic interest although they were painted by an important Flemish baroque artist called Guglielmo Borremans.

Byzantine mosaics in the older part of the Church of la Martorana

Attractions nearby

Also on Piazza Bellini in Palermo there are two more churches: the Church of Saint-Catherine, with its stunning baroque decoration, and the Church of San Cataldo, an impressive Norman church.

If you like the byzantine mosaics in the church of La Martorana, you will also want to visit the Palatine Chapel, also in Palermo and the most impressive example of the byzantine mosaics, as well as Monreale cathedral and Cefalu cathedral. For more historic sites nearby see the Palermo guide.

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

See also:

Map of Palermo church of la Martorana and places to visit

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