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Inside a Palermitan 'Jewel'

Posted by Suzanne on 24 Apr 2015



A glittering silence in Palermo

To enter one of the world’s most unique small chapels head west along Palermo’s main street, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, with the Quattro Canti behind and walk under the exotic Porta Nuova, the city’s 16th century western gate, to the Norman Royal Palace, Palazzo Reale.

And, within this vast, greatly altered palace complex is the most exquisite chapel, the Palatine Chapel, Cappella Palatina, filled with gleaming Byzantine mosaics, Greek and Latin Text and a classic Islamic ceiling.

It is colourful, oriental and filled with silence. It overlooks the palace’s inner courtyard.


A Fusion of cultures

The early 12th century Cappella Palatina –commissioned as a private chapel by the great Sicilian Norman King Roger II; known as a lover of the arts, a patron of the sciences, an intellectual and a just ruler of a Sicily bustling with cultural diversity - is a unique example of the blending of three cultures: Arabic, Byzantine and Norman.

Cultures which have shaped the cultural heart of the once coveted oriental city of Palermo.

And as the noted historian John Julius Norwich says in his great work, “The Normans in Sicily”, it is, “a seemingly effortless fusion of all that is most brilliant in the Latin, Byzantine and Islamic traditions into a single, harmonious masterpiece.”

The clustering of the Islamic eight pointed stars on the classic Islamic stalactite wood ceiling to form a cross, notes writer, Robin Elam Musumeci is, "a perfect example of the fusion of cultures."

It is a chapel built by a Sicilian Norman King who, I came to learn from Norwich, has been called, 'a baptised Sultan' by Michele Amari. Roger II is known to have loved all things Arabic.

And, this glorious chapel is a symbol of both that love and his enlightened rule.


Radiant beauty

The passion for the beauty of Roger’s chapel is unsurpassed. It was described by the writer Guy Maupassant in the 19th century as,

“the most beautiful (chapel) in the world, the most surprising religious jewel ever dreamt of by man.”


Pure silence 

The Cappella Palatina is filled with a silence and a sense of mystery and wonderment. And, it simply mesmerises. It really is 'jewel' like.

I will return to rediscover Roger's chapel; to wander slowly and be transported.




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