The Martorana, Palermo, Sicily, Italy

The Martorana, also known as the Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio, has such an elegant and beautiful interior its easy to see how in 1184 the Arab writer and traveller Ibn Jubayr visited the church and described it as “the most beautiful monument in the world”. The church was founded in 1143 by a Greek Admiral named George of Antioch. George of Antioch was also the principal minister of King Roger II of Sicily, and the name ‘Ammiraglio’ meaning ‘admiral’ derives from its founder. The church was initially Eastern Orthodox, its charter, still intact was written both in Greek and Arabic. When George of Antioch died in 1151, he and his wife were interred in the narthex (the western end of the church).

After the Sicilian Vespers (rebellion) of 1282, the island’s nobles gathered in the church and decided upon the Sicilian crown being offered to Peter III of Aragon. In 1193 a convent of Benedictine nuns was founded on adjacent property by Eloisa Martorana. In the 15th century under the rule of King Alfonso of Aragon the convent absorbed the church. The nuns renovated the church over the next two hundred years.

The interior and exterior of the church show the strong Islamic influence on Northern Sicily. The church is also built in a standard Byzantine church style common in Asia Minor. In the 19th century a Baroque facade was added to the side of the church that faces Piazza Bellini. The mosaics that reside within the church date from the 12th century and were created by Byzantine craftsmen. In 1935 Mussolini returned the control of the church to the Greek Orthodox community, today it is used by the Italo-Greek Catholic Church and shares cathedral status with the church of San Demetrio in Piana degli Albanesi.

GPS: 38.11476, 13.36286

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