Much like any Italian city, Palermo is full of churches scattered around the Sicilian capital. What makes them stand out is the sheer variety of their styles and histories. After having passed a few of them, I head to the San Cataldo church on the Piazza Bellini. Its exterior is already calling my attention: it has three red domes, and a square bell tower. It is an example of the Arab-Norman architecture which was in vogue in Sicily in the Norman era. There are some elements that remind me of the cathedral of Cefalù I saw just the day before, which belongs to the same period (12th century). After paying my entrance fee, I enter the small church (used as a post office in the 18th century), where I see mosaics on the floor, as well as Byzantine and Islamic elements. Right next door is the Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio church which I find closed.
On my criss-cross exploration of Palermo, I walk past many other churches, enter the bell tower of the San Giuseppe Cafasso church, which offers a good view of the adjacent San Giovanni degli Eremiti church with its typical red domes reminding me of the San Cataldo church, and much of the old city of Palermo. After a good lunch in the neighbourhood, I have a look at the San Giovanni degli Eremiti church. I find a hall with murals, which supposedly has been used as a mosque in the Arab period in Sicily. This church origins go back to the 6th century. It also has a pleasant courtyard with arched colonnades. Surely a fascinating testimony to the rich and varied background of the Sicilian capital. The next morning, I finally make it to the Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio church, also called Martorana. I manage to sneak in just before a group of French tourists. As soon as I am in, I am overwhelmed by the richly decorated ceiling, with dazzling, shining mosaics dating back to the 12th century. While it is a catholic church, it has a strong Byzantine influence (the mosaics underline that): liturgy is done according to the Byzantine rules, in both Albanese and ancient Greek. There are mosaics with King Roger of Sicily being crowned, and offering a model of the church to Jesus. Easily the most impressive interior of the churches of Palermo.
Heading into the Kalsa neighbourhood, I find the church of Santa Maria dei del Cancelliere, also dubbed La Magione, one of the oldest churches of Palermo. The approach is through a small garden, and I find another example of Norman style architecture. Nearby, I find the Santa Maria dello Spasimo church, still in the Kalsa neighbourhood. What makes this stand out, as a testimony of the history of the city, is that the church was never finished because of the Turkish threat in 1535. The roof was never there, and the church is currently used as a theatre venue, as the chairs show. It is time to head to the cathedral of the city, which I have passed several times. The enormous building is, again, a mixture of the different periods and accompanying styles that can be found all over Palermo. The present building was started in the late 12th century, but an earlier church on this spot was turned into a mosque by the Saracens in the 9th century. What we see now is a mixture of Gothic, Norman, Catalan, and other styles, making this a unique building. I enter just before rain starts to fall, and stumble into a wedding ceremony. I stay to watch the pair say yes to each other, and then visit the parts of the cathedral that can be visited. I see the tombs of the royals, I visit the small museum with a rich display of precious items, like old robes, bibles, and paintings. Descending into the crypt, I find many more tombs from the Roman up to the Norman times, lined up against the walls. One of the tombs holds the remains of Walter Ophamil, the founder of the cathedral. Here, I also find the crown of Constance of Sicily. When I get back up again, I am just in time to catch the lovely newly weds head out of the church, where they are greeted by a shower of flowers.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Palermo churches (Italy). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Palermo churches. Read more about this site.