Monreale Things to Do

  • Things to Do
    by brendareed
  • Things to Do
    by brendareed
  • Things to Do
    by brendareed

Most Recent Things to Do in Monreale

  • brendareed's Profile Photo

    Cathedral – Exterior

    by brendareed Written Oct 21, 2014

    2.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness


    “The exterior of the apse is the apogee of Norman decoration.”
    ~ Eyewitness Travel: Sicily


    When we arrived in Monreale, the cathedral was closed for several hours after lunch. This gave us some time to walk around the outside of the cathedral and get a good look at the art on building’s exterior. On first glance, the outside of the cathedral is rather plain looking – and with no indication of the exquisite interior within this plain exterior.

    While the entrance to the cathedral is on the northern side, the west façade contains a fantastic portal with bronze doors by Bonnano of Pisa, built in the late 1100s. They are protected from the elements by a 18th century porch. The façade is flanked by two towers, one complete and the other never finished and much lower.

    We had parked near the east side of the cathedral and we drawn to the Arab decorations on the three apses, which are a combination of lava and tufa (limestone) in arches with various geometric motifs. It is well worth taking the time to walk around the corner shops to get to the exterior of the apse to see this. Other than the Palermo cathedral, I had not seen this type of exterior design before.

    A walk in Belevedere park, accessible through the corner archway in the piazza on the west side of the cathedral can give you a view of the cloister exterior and the partial remains of the original monastery. A climb up the tower from within the cathedral will also give you an up close view of some of the geometric patterns and artistic details of the exterior.

    Having seen the outside of this Norman-Arab cathedral, it was time for the doors to open and for us to explore the interior.

    Related to:
    • Architecture
    • Historical Travel

    Was this review helpful?

  • brendareed's Profile Photo

    Cathedral – Interior

    by brendareed Written Oct 21, 2014

    2.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness


    “An amalgamation of Arab, Byzantine and Norman artistic styles framed by traditional Romanesque architecture, representing the best of twelfth-century culture”


    As you enter the cathedral, the first things you will see are the exquisite mosaics, so take a moment to catch your breath. Then have a look around at the actual structure before focusing on the mosaics that dominate the scenery.

    The cathedral is simply designed and a combination of a traditionally Christian church with its nave and transept, but contains the Cluniac abbey influence with the three apses in the east. The nave is supported by 18 granite columns with Corinthian capitals – all the same except for the one cipollino marble column at the west end of the nave; this column represents the archbishop.

    As you look up, you can’t help but be impressed by the highly decorated wooden ceiling. This is a second reconstruction of the original ceiling with the first one destroyed in an 1811 fire and the second occurred more recently in the 1980s when termites were discovered in the timbers.

    In the southern transept are the two sarcophagi of both the founder of the cathedral, William II, in the white marble and his father, William I, in the brown porphyry sarcophagus. Margaret of Navarre, wife of William I and mother to William II, is entombed in the cathedral along with her other sons. And surprisingly, the heart of King Louis IX of France (Saint Louis) is enshrined in the northern transept.

    Having seen what there is to see structurally, now let’s look at the real reason we came to Monreale…the mosaics.

    Related to:
    • Historical Travel
    • Architecture

    Was this review helpful?

  • brendareed's Profile Photo

    Cathedral - Mosaics

    by brendareed Written Oct 21, 2014

    2.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    The colorful mosaics with golden tesserae background cover an astounding 6400 meters square (68,889 square feet). It would appear that no parts of the walls were left untouched by the artisans who completed this project in 1182, a remarkable feat given the building of the cathedral began just eight years prior. It is unclear whether the artists were Greek or locals that were trained by Byzantine artists, but what is clear is that their handiwork is superb. There are more than 130 individual scenes portrayed in the mosaic cycle featuring tales from both the Old and New Testaments.

    Beginning with the central apse, one cannot miss the massive Christ Pantocrator (“Ruler of All”) at the top. This mosaic portrait alone is a huge 13 x 7 meters (42 x 22 feet). Below Christ are two tiers of mosaics with an enthroned Mary with Child directly below Christ flanked by angels, saints, and apostles. Both male and female saints are depicted in the iconic mosaics. Interesting to note is the picture of St. Thomas Becket, who had only recently been named a saint after William II’s father-in-law, England’s Henry II, took responsibility for his murder only ten years prior to the mosaic. St. Thomas can be seen in the central apse bottom row, second saint to the right of the east window.

    Around the nave are double-tiered scenes from Biblical stories, including Noah and the ark (shown in one of my photos). The aisles have mosaics depicting the ministry of Christ. In the other two apses are mosaics of saints Peter and Paul. There are also scenes of William II receiving the crown from Christ and his offering the new cathedral to Mary.

    The floor is equally beautiful with mosaic tiles; the nave dates to 1559 but the floor in the transepts is original from the 12th century.

    Related to:
    • Architecture
    • Historical Travel
    • Arts and Culture

    Was this review helpful?

  • brendareed's Profile Photo

    William II’s English Plantagenet connection

    by brendareed Written Oct 21, 2014

    2.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    William II is buried in Monreale cathedral in a white marble sarcophagus that sits beside his father’s (William I) brown porphyry sarcophagus in one of the corners of the transept.

    I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t know very much Sicilian history before researching our trip. However, I am very interested in British history and tend to focus on the Plantagenet and Tudor dynasties. So naturally I was pleased to learn of the connection between these two island nations.

    William II, Sicily’s third king following his father and Roger II, had some rather famous in-laws. His wife, Joan, was the daughter of England’s King Henry II (of Thomas Becket fame) and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Among William’s brother-in-laws through Joan were Richard the Lionheart and King John (of Robin Hood fame). While he didn’t really have much to do with his royal in-laws, after his death, both Richard and Eleanor headed to Sicily to collect Joan, who was being held captive by the new ruler of Sicily, Tancred. (Side note: An interesting historical novel about this time period when Richard and Eleanor come to Sicily is Sharon Kay Penman’s Lionheart, published in 2011 as part of her Plantagenet series.)

    Other than building absolutely stunning cathedrals, William is not really that well known. He liked to stay close to Palermo and was of sound character, leaving others to give him the moniker, William the Good.

    Related to:
    • Historical Travel
    • Architecture

    Was this review helpful?

  • brendareed's Profile Photo

    Cathedral - climbing the tower

    by brendareed Written Oct 21, 2014

    2.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    We came to Monreale knowing that we would be climbing the tower – it is what we do (Hubby just has a thing about climbing things and I typically join in the ‘fun’). So after we had seen the interior of the cathedral, we headed towards the back of the nave where we paid the man at the table €3 each to make the climb.

    We’ve climbed many church towers and steeples; by comparison, this climb was not difficult and there were not too many steps. But the hallways and staircases did get very narrow and dark – so this is not for the claustrophobic ones. The narrowness didn’t pose a problem since it was a slow day tourist wise; however, at busier times, I cannot imagine how it works with people coming and going in those narrow passages.

    After the initial climb, you are brought out to an open walkway that gives you a really good view of the cloisters. Since the cloisters were closed the day we were there, this would be our only opportunity to view them, so we took our time. My zoom lens gave me a chance to see some of the capitals, columns and carvings in more detail.

    We continued on our climb where we were treated to close ups of the apse exterior decorations – a real treat to see this artwork so close. At the end of the climb, we found ourselves at the top of the tower with a high fence. There was just one final climb – a couple steps to the very top of the cupola for a photo-op of Hubby.

    After having our fill of the spectacular view from the top, it was time to head down the steps and narrow passages. Thankfully, we didn’t run into people until we were back at the cloisters, which was a much wider area.

    As I mentioned, the climb isn’t too bad and it wouldn’t be difficult for children to do. It has enough twists and turns and variations to keep them entertained and enough fencing and walls to keep Mom and Dad feeling secure.

    Related to:
    • Architecture
    • Historical Travel

    Was this review helpful?

  • brendareed's Profile Photo

    Cathedral - Cloisters

    by brendareed Written Oct 21, 2014

    2.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    We were unable to get into the cloisters on the day we visited since it was a Monday afternoon and they were only open in the mornings on Mondays. It was a disappointment, but I was able to at least look at them from a distance while on the tower climb. From this vantage point, I could see the majority of the 228 double columns with Arab arches that are all different in their carvings, decorations of reliefs and mosaics, and elaborate Romanesque capitals. This artwork dates back to the original building of the monastery and cathedral in the 12th century. It is believed to be the work of just five master craftsmen, most likely assisted by apprentices.

    Also of note in the cloister is the fountain in the design of a palm tree located in a small covered enclosure. It was here that the monks would wash their hands prior to entering the refectory for meals.

    While I was not able to go into the cloisters for a close-up, I highly recommend VTer toonsarah’s cloister tip from her trip to Monreale. Her photos and wonderful descriptions will give you an idea of what a visit to the cloisters is like.

    The cloister is open Tuesday – Saturday, 0900-1830 and Mondays/Sundays from 0900-1300. There is an admission fee to enter the cloister (separate from the tower climb fee).

    Related to:
    • Architecture
    • Historical Travel

    Was this review helpful?

  • brendareed's Profile Photo

    Belvedere: the park behind cathedral

    by brendareed Written Oct 21, 2014

    2.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    While waiting for the cathedral to reopen, we were exploring the outside of the cathedral grounds and happened upon this park that gave us some wonderful views of Palermo and the urban sprawl between the city and Monreale. It was a peaceful place, full of interesting trees and we had the park almost all to ourselves, except for two guys doing some sort of fun photo shoot and the couple that apparently wanted to be alone on the bench behind the bush. The walls of the park are made up of the remains of the original monastery and the Town Hall, which was part of the former Norman royal palace.

    The park can be found by walking through the open archway in the corner of the piazza on the west side of the cathedral. As you enter this area, there is a wide open space surrounded by buildings (including WCs/bathrooms/toilets). Continue straight ahead through the second archway and you will find yourself in the Belvedere. It is a good place to relax, have a picnic, or let those little ones get out some energy.

    Related to:
    • Historical Travel
    • Architecture

    Was this review helpful?

  • brendareed's Profile Photo

    Triton Fountain

    by brendareed Written Oct 21, 2014

    2.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    In the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele located beside the entrance to the cathedral is an interesting Triton fountain. The fountain was made by Mario Rutelli. I found it made an interesting contrast to the old cathedral behind it and didn’t quite fit into the scheme of the area. I might not have noticed it otherwise, but we were waiting for the cathedral to open and took a seat on one of the benches that surrounds the fountain. The fountain was made by Mario Rutelli, a well known Palermo sculptor who has made a number of works on display around Italy (and sadly, many of his works no long exist).

    Related to:
    • Architecture
    • Historical Travel

    Was this review helpful?

  • oriettaIT's Profile Photo

    Visit the Catherdal

    by oriettaIT Updated May 27, 2012

    2.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    After you have seen the cathedral in Palermo and its elaborate outside you will probably be not too impressed by Monreale Dome, but wait to get inside!
    The famous golden mosaic are all over the place and give to the place a majestic feeling.

    Be sure to check the timetable for visits:
    weekdays: 8:30 to 12:45 and from 14:30 to 17:00
    public holidays: from 8:00 to 10:00 and from 14:30 to 17:30
    During the celebrations is not allowed to visit.

    Related to:
    • Architecture
    • Photography
    • Religious Travel

    Was this review helpful?

  • oriettaIT's Profile Photo

    Visit Chiostro dei Benedettini

    by oriettaIT Written May 27, 2012

    2.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Before or after your visit to the Cathedral do not leave out this wonderful place!
    The peaceful and quiet cloister will astonish and amaze you with hundreds of white columns, some are adorned with mosaics, other has incredible works of carving.
    The entrance is on the right side of the Dome, in 2011 it was 6 Euros and it was totally worth it.

    Related to:
    • Museum Visits
    • Photography
    • Architecture

    Was this review helpful?

  • toonsarah's Profile Photo

    The cathedral

    by toonsarah Updated Aug 13, 2011

    4.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    As I said in my intro, our taxi driver in Monreale claimed that this was the most beautiful cathedral in the world, and once inside it’s not too difficult to feel that he might have a point, despite the many other claimants to that title.

    The cathedral is rightly considered one of the greatest architectural marvels of the Middle Ages, and is a mixture of Arab, Byzantine and Norman artistic styles, a blend of medieval Christian and Muslim architecture. It was founded by William II in 1172 and largely completed some four years later, though some of the work dragged on into the 13th century. The beautiful mosaics are said to be one of the world's largest displays of this art. These mosaics cover 6,340 square meters of the duomo's interior surface, practically all the surfaces of the cathedral's walls (apart from the ground level up to a height of two meters)

    All of the mosaic figures (mainly icons) are set on a background of gold, and the colours just bowled me over. There are apparently a total of 130 (I didn't count them!) individual mosaic scenes depicting biblical events. The Old Testament is portrayed upon the walls of the central nave, starting from the Creation. The mosaics on the side aisles illustrate the major events of the life of Jesus, from His birth to the Crucifixion. The crowning glory is the majestic Christ Pantocrator (All Powerful) located on the central apse over the main altar. This image is 13 meters across and seven meters high. Beneath it is a mosaic of the Mother of God enthroned with the Christ child on her lap.

    In contrast the exterior is fairly plain, apart from some intricate stonework on the apse which can be seen from the street behind the cathedral. It's also really worth climbing the steps to the roof - see separate tip.

    Ceiling of side chapel, Monreale Exterior of apse
    Related to:
    • Arts and Culture
    • Architecture

    Was this review helpful?

  • domenicococozza's Profile Photo

    the cathedral

    by domenicococozza Written Aug 22, 2007

    2.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Tourists flock to Monreale for one reason - to see the Cathedral. Unquestionably, the greatest architectural achievement of the Normans in Sicily. Construction started in 1170 under the watchful eye of King William 11 of Sicily. This remarkable cathedral has some of the best byzantine mosaics and intricate gold leaf work in all of Italy.

    view across the piazza the cathedral organ vaulted and arched ceiling

    Was this review helpful?

  • al_mary's Profile Photo

    Monreale Cathedral

    by al_mary Updated Jan 28, 2007

    0 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    The Monreale Cathedral is a definate
    must to see if you are in Sicily. It is a
    dazzling mixture of Arab, Byzantine and
    Norman artistic styles framed by traditional
    Romanesque architecture, all combined in
    a perfect blend of the best that both the
    Christian and Muslim worlds of the 12th
    century had to offer.

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    Transport: Monreale can be reached on bus 389 from the
    Piazza Indipendenza in Palermo, taking about 20 minutes
    to reach the Cathedral.

    Opening time: Daily 8 am to 6 am

    The abbey cloister is open Monday to Saturday 9 am to 1pm,
    and usually from 3 pm to 7 pm during the tourist season.

    Sundays 9 am to 12.30 pm

    Related to:
    • Historical Travel
    • Architecture
    • Religious Travel

    Was this review helpful?

  • toonsarah's Profile Photo

    Cloisters of Monreale

    by toonsarah Updated Nov 10, 2006

    4.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    The cloisters at Monreale are another star attraction. The entrance is in a corner of the piazza immediately in front of the cathedral, and there’s a charge of 6 Euros, which seemed a little dear to us compared with the 2 Euros we’d paid to go up on the roof, but it is worth it.

    There are 228 columns, many with mosaic inlay and all with a wonderfully stone carved capital. These capitals depict scenes in Sicily's Norman history and Bible scenes. Every one is different. There is also an attractive Arab style fountain in one corner, and the overall atmosphere is very peaceful.

    Carved capital in the cloisters Mosaic-inlaid pillar
    Related to:
    • Architecture

    Was this review helpful?

  • toonsarah's Profile Photo

    Up on the roof

    by toonsarah Written Nov 8, 2006

    4.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    In the north east corner of Monreale’s stunning cathedral we came across a small doorway and a sign indicating that for a fee of 2 euros we could get a view of the cloisters. We paid our fee and found ourselves not going out into the famous cloisters themselves, but climbing a stone staircase set within the cathedral’s walls. After a few flights we emerged onto the roof of the north transept and were rewarded with the promised view of the cloisters below, and a great angle from which to photograph one of the towers. But there was more!

    At the far end of the roof another doorway led to a potentially claustrophically narrow corridor squeezed into the roof space (see 2nd photo) and beyond that more steps leading on upwards until eventually we found ourselves on a much higher section of the roof, with a panoramic view of the city of below and beyond it the beautiful blue bay.

    This tour of discovery isn’t for anyone who has a fear of heights or of tight spaces, nor for anyone who would find the climb too much of a challenge, but for anyone else I would really recommend doing this, especially on a fine day.

    View of Palermo from the roof tops Corridor in the cathedral walls
    Related to:
    • Architecture

    Was this review helpful?

Instant Answers: Monreale

Get an instant answer from local experts and frequent travelers

27 travelers online now

Comments

Monreale Things to Do

Reviews and photos of Monreale things to do posted by real travelers and locals. The best tips for Monreale sightseeing.

View all Monreale hotels