Visit Palermo Royal Palace
The Palermo Royal Palace of the Normans is an important building on the edge of the historic centre of Palermo, in northern Sicily
Explore the Palermo Royal Palace of the Normans
Italy This Way comment: the Royal Palace in Palermo is best known because it contains the Palatine Chapel, but it is an interesting building in its own right and the oldest Royal palace in Europe.
Your entrance ticket to the palace includes a visit to the palace and state rooms as well as a visit to the palatine chapel.
The Palace has its origins in the 9th century and small parts of the original building - it started life as an Arab palace - can still be seen. It was in the late 11th century after the Norman conquest of Sicily that most of the current palace was built when the Normans decided to re-use the building as their seat of power for the region.
The palace was substantially transformed and added to over the centuries, in particular by the House of Aragon, so the palace you see today dates from several different periods in history.
The Palatine Chapel, on the upper floor of the Palace, is certainly the highlight of a visit: it is a remarkable chapel built in the 12th century by King Roger II and incorporating Byzantine and Norman styles. The entire chapel is highly decorated with golden mosaics, and certainly one of the most beautiful churches in Europe.
Because the history and decoration of the chapel is so interesting we have a separate article if you would like more information: see Palatine Chapel of Palermo.
The Royal Palace contains an impressive central courtyard or atrium, with three rows of balconies and arches. Many of the rooms around the courtyard are not open to the public because they are still used as local government offices, but your visit includes a tour of several state rooms and main parliament rooms.
The frescoed walls, beautifully painted ceilings and other ornaments in these rooms are quite impressive, but perhaps appears less so because you are visiting straight after a visit to the Palatine Chapel, with some of the most impressive mosaics in the world! Perhaps it would be a good idea to visit the state rooms before the chapel...
State rooms and Museum of the Royal Palace
Although the palace soon lost its role as royal residence it kept a function as a seat of local government, a role which it still retains today. The first room you enter is called the Hercules room and is the main meeting room for the Sicilian government. The room was built between 1560 and 1572 but the artworks around the room relating to Hercules were not added until the early 19th century.
These were painted by an artist called Velasco (better known as Velasquez), in an effort to add a classical style to the room. There are also various mythological characters in the pilasters and other decorative elements.
The museum occupies several of the more recent rooms in the palace, next to the chamber of the Sicilian government. These have various styles such as the Viceroy Hall, with its portraits of the viceroys aand presidents of Sicily; the Chinese Hall with its paintings of Chinese characters (a popular theme in the 18th century); and the Pompeian Hall with its use of Venus and Eros as a theme.
You then reach the two most important rooms of the visit:
- Winds Hall or Joharia Tower, a room in a square tower with a roof supported by four columns and four arches. The current roof was added by the King of Sicily in 1713 and is painted with a large compass and flowers - it is possible that the original tower did not have a roof.
- King Roger Hall, with its marble columns and re-used corinthian capital stones features a beautiful series of mosaics on the walls and ceiling depicting various hunting scenes. Although these mosaics date from the same period as the mosaics in the Palatine chapel, here they show pagan images with no religious significance
The theme of lions in the mosaics continues with two marble lions that date from the 12th century and probably originally formed part of a fountain, although they were used to decorate a fireplace in the 19th century.
Downstairs in the Royal Palace you can see the Duke of Montalto Halls, with their extensive use of fresoes painted in the 17th century by some of the most important artists of the time. From the end of these halls you can see the Punic walls, with large stones put in place in the 5th century BC and recently excavated: these are part of the original city walls and a gate into the city.
In the historic centre of Palermo there are several very impressive churches and a cathedral to visit, and an extensive historic centre: see Palermo guide for information.
Another church that is visited because of its lovely mosaics is just a few kilometres from Palermo at Monreale.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Sicily guide.