Monreale sits high above Palermo and the Conca d’Oro, the plain on which Palermo is situated between the mountains and the Tyrrhenian Sea. The town is not far from Palermo; it took us about 20 minutes to drive there (primarily due to traffic, not distance). It is dominated by Santa Maria la Nuova, the cathedral and primary reason we came to Monreale and the main reason for the existence of the town.
Monreale and its cathedral developed more for political reasons than for spiritual. Sicily’s king, William II, created a new archbishopric during a power struggle with his former tutor, the English archbishop Walter of the Mill who was supported by the papacy. In 1174 William created a Benedictine monastery along with the cathedral; in doing this he made sure that his appointment of the abbot – who would automatically hold the rank of archbishop and not require an approval from the Pope or Sicilian bishops – would be sympathetic to his ambitions and plans. This explains why there are two cathedrals so close to each other – one in Palermo and one in Monreale, today a suburb of the larger city.
We made the drive up to Monreale after a morning of touring parts of Palermo. As luck would have it, we arrived during the afternoon hours when, like so many places in Sicily, the cathedral was closed. We spent the time having a walking tour of Monreale, visiting the park behind the cathedral, walking some of the extremely narrow cobbled streets, enjoying the exterior of the cathedral, eating gelato, and people watching.
Once the cathedral opened up, we entered and were awed by the interior and the incredible mosaics that fill the nave. Our initial plan was to savor the mosaics, then climb the tower, and get into the cloisters. However, the cloisters were not open on that afternoon, so we had to console ourselves with views of the cloisters from above during the tower climb. While we were disappointed, it did not deter much from our overall enjoyment of the cathedral and our time in Monreale.
To read more about the cathedral, visit my weekend in Monreale page.
During your stay in Palermo you can't miss to visit Monreale. It is a easy trip by bus, about one hour each way due to heavy traffic.
The Cathedral is one of the Unesco World Heritage monuments and it is outstanding!
Monreale itself is a nice town with a great view of the valley and with several great restaurants and caffee.
We left Palermo around 12.00 and were able to be back around 05.00pm visiting only the Cathedral and the Chiostro dei Benedettini. A whole day would be better.
More information about how to get there can be found here
The cathedral in Monreale is a top of the item choice for things to do. Not only do you get to see the most wonderful mosaic creations, but you can take a bus and ride out of town to get a glimpse of life outside of Palermo center.
I live in Italy and have seen a lot of cathedrals, churches, etc., believe me, this one is awesome. It is worth a half day trip to Monreale.
The mosaic of Christ Pantocrator located on the central apse over the main altar dominates everything. The entire image is thirteen meters across and seven meters high.
Below you will see Theotokos , the Mother of God, enthroned with the Christ child.
This is “a must” visit since Palermo have nothing more beautiful than this cathedral. It is a main attraction in Monreale, a town located a 15 minutes drive from Palermo on the slope of Mount Caputo , and probably the whole Palermo . Even though Palermo cathedral is larger, Monreale will never leave a nearly same impression.
Norman, Arab and Byzantine elements of art in one place are just amazing. Mosaics cover over six thousand square metres of the church's's interior, an area larger than those of the church of Saint Mark in Venice . I could not stop taking a picture of every single ornament on a wall and this is how I found out that they don’t repeat until you reach the center of the cathedral – the other side mirrors the opposite.
The mosaics are a strongly Byzantine element, while certain structural details, such as the geometric inlay of the apse exteriors, are Arab and actually Islamic. The cloister, on the other hand, reflects a mixture of influences.
I was lucky to attend Sunday mass on my birthday. (Entrance is free if you are there for the service) There were not a lot of people. One woman, not speaking a single word in English, felt obligated to explain to me what every single mosaic piece means. Later she sat with me singing and explaining parts of service.
Even if you are the totally averse to churches and grand architecture, it's unthinkable to visit Palermo and not make the trip out to Monreale to see what most people consider the finest building on the whole island and one of the greatest cathedrals in the world.
Monreale - a building of such splendour and artistry that it must be considered one of the true glories of all the Middle Ages. Its exterior is a blend of Norman (Romanesque) solidity in its structure and Arab fluidity in its decoration. The interior is a mediaeval vision of heaven where mosaics cover every surface with extraordinarily detailed scenes from both the Old and the New Testament, the lives of saints and portraits of Christ, his disciples and the fathers of the church,all depicted against a golden background , the universal symbol at this time of the light of heaven. Standing in the midst of all this glory is like standing in the centre of a jewel box and everywhere you look there's another precious gem.
When you've had enough of all this gold and dazzling colour, make your way to the cathedral's cloister and enter a totally different apect of mediaeval religious life. The two buildings could not be more dissimilar and yet they are totally contemporary. Not only is it likely to be blissfully quiet after the crowds in the cathedral, it's here that you begin to appreciate just how intertwined Arab and Norman culture and taste were at the time this place was built.
Monreale's cloister, with its multitude of slender carved and mosaic-patterned columns has more in common with Moorish Spain than the cloisters of Normandy or England. Lively scenes of both Biblical and Classical tales are carved into the column's capitals. Make sure you walk right around the cloister - if you don't, you could miss the the exquisite private little cloisters in the far corner - and that would be a shame.
Before you leave Monreale, if time permits, venturing away from the immediate precinct of the Cathedral has its rewards. There are some marvellous views to be had from the higher reaches of the town, lower down the small squares and narrow streets have their own charm - and some pleasant cafes and gelaterias.
This charming and great Duomo located on the top of a hill about 10 km from Palermo. From there you can see hole Palermo very clear. This cathedral is very special because its the harmonious mix of architectural styles, Byzantine, Arabic and Romanesque. Monreale Cathedral is one of the greatest works from the Sicilian Middle Ages
Monreale was a revelation! If football hadn’t brought us to Palermo I don’t think we would ever have visited this place, and I confess I hadn’t heard of it prior to our visit. Yet it has the most amazing cathedral – when our taxi driver claimed it as the most beautiful in the world he may have had a point! The exterior is imposing, perched on a hillside at the bottom end of the town, but it is the stunning interior that makes this such an unmissable sight. Almost every surface is ornately decorated, in particular with rich blue, gold and other colours of mosaic, depicting the main stories of the Old and New Testaments. No one of any faith, or none at all, can fail to be moved by the sight.
While in Monreale also be sure to visit the cloisters, where each pillar is unique, and wander the streets for the wonderful views of Palermo and the bay below. For an even better view of the surrounding area, and if you have a good head for heights, climb the steps to the cathedral roof.
There are also several bars and tavernas, and a few interesting shops. If you’re here in the evening when most of the day-trippers have gone you’ll find it a friendly unpretentious town in which to experience a sense of the real Sicily. And if you'd like to read more about this great little town, do visit my Monreale page.
If you like cathedrals and oppulence, then you have to take the trip to Monreale. There is a line to get in. But what there was to see absolutely left me speechless. It is graceful in it's lines, but magnificent in size. Every inch is covered with richly colored and gilt mosaic. Like the Cistine chapel, the longer you look at the mosaics, the more you see. It was the complete story of the Bible told in beautiful pictures. Definately, look for the little boxes to put coins in. They illuminate the walls and ceilings. The outside cloister with all the columns was also beautiful.
The mosaics in the interior of Monreale Cathedral are fantastic. But, don't forget the Cloisters and Belvedere. You have to pay extra, but they are worth it.
Inside the cloister is a Arabic fountain surrounded by a four-sided white marble colonnade. The marble carvings on the pillars are gruesome!
The Belvedere is a must with it's panoramic view of Palermo. It's reached through a courtyard near the cloister, with the entrance to the Belvedere at the southwest corner of the piazza, passing through an archway. Twenty meters through this courtyard to another archway which brings you to the Belvedere and its spectacular view of Palermo and the Conca d'Oro, the valley below Monreale.
Take note of the beautiful green glaze on the roof tiles.
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