Friday, May 6, 2011


Where am I?
Mosaics in Cappella Palantina

Name the capital city of Sicily. Yes, it’s Palermo. How did you know? And it is a beautifully situated capital city too, strung around a handsome horse-shoe harbour, with steep attractive mountainsides behind. The city centre divides into the centro storico and the attractive 19th century streets that sprang up after Garibaldi rode into town and liberated everyone. It has two theatres, nice shopping streets, lots of characterful little trattatorias, a big cathedral, remnants of Norman city walls, and Sicily’s parliament. It also has THE most amazing collection of mosaics this side of Ravenna – some say that Palermo’s mosaics rival the famous ones of Ravenna. I’ll need to go to Ravenna to check this claim, I can see that.
Cappella Palantina: a riot of medieval colour
Sicily's Parliament Chamber

Marcella the guide is a local Palermo girl, and knew how to zero in on the best of the mosaics around town. The “must see” ones are in the Cappella Palatina, where you can also visit the (ex) Royal Apartments and the assembly room of the Sicilian government; and in Monreale, a separate town about 20 minutes drive up the hillside behind Palermo. In Monreale there is a magnificent cathedral and a Benedictine Abbey with a lovely cloister. The Monreale Cathedral was built by a Norman ruler of Sicily named William II, specifically to outshine the Cappella Palatina, which was built by his grandfather Roger II (Ruggerio II).

The cloister at Monreale

Monreale mosaics telling the Testament stories

Monreale. The Christ's hands are 7 metres apart.

Poolside at the Villa Igiea, Palermo

Villa Igiea. View from the room.
But you are sick of churches and monuments and ruins, you say? Then let’s go back to the divine Villa Igiea, which was originally built as a summer home for one of Sicily’s richest families (best not to ask), especially for one of the daughters of the family who was consumptive. The building later became a sanatorium, and is very pleasantly situated in lovely gardens on the bay. The decor is Art Deco and the rooms have tall windows that you can throw open to the sea breezes. On Easter Sunday there was live piano music, a special Easter Lunch menu, sunshine, and dining al fresco. Then there was the pool. Palermo’s climate is sub-tropical – the bougainvillea, hibiscus and frangipani were just beginning to flower. Was there something more you wanted?

Easter dolce
Easter Sunday Lunch

This completes my travel-related raves about Italy and Sicily – at least until I go back. Which seems inevitable.

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