The Palatine Chapel, Palermo, Sicily, Italy

The Palatine Chapel in Palermo is home to some of the most breathtaking mosaics I have ever seen, what is particularly striking is the harmonious mix of architectural and artistic styles illustrating the diverse history of Sicily. The chapel combines Norman architecture, Arabic arches and the Byzantine dome and mosaics; typical Christian designs sit side by side with eight pointed stars, typical of Muslim design. The Palatine Chapel was commissioned by Roger II of Sicily in 1132, built upon an older chapel constructed around 1080, the Palatine Chapel was part of the Royal Palace and was to serve the religious needs to the ruling family. Most of the church was completed by 1143 however some of the mosaics remained unfinished until the 1170s.

The mosaics in the Palatine Chapel are renowned for their colour and luminance. The oldest are those covering the ceiling, drum and dome dating from the 1140s and are attributed to Byzantine artists. The three central figures of St Gregory, St Basil and St John Chrysostom allude to the Orthodox cult known as the Three Hierarchs, which originated fifty years earlier. The earlier mosaics use Greek and some Arabic inscriptions, many of these are secular in nature and represent oriental flora and fauna. The later mosaics are slightly more crude and are narrated with Latin inscriptions. The muqarnas which dot the ceiling of the chapel are a common element in Arabic architecture and something about their design really intrigues and draws the eye towards them. The hundreds of facets were painted with many purely ornamental vegetal and zoomorphic designs, designs of daily life and many subjects that have yet to be explained, images of Muslim life abound, including one image of a picnic with a harem.

Although some work was carried out on the Palatine Chapel during the 1400s the majority of the church’s design dates from the 12th century, the chapel is a must see for anyone visiting Palermo.

GPS: 38.11088, 13.35353

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