We have a lot scheduled today to make up for losing a day yesterday. We start by walking through an outdoor market on the way to the Palermo Cathedral. Sicily has fertile, volcanic soil and a great climate for growing everything. On the sides of the road and between sidewalk slabs there is fennel growing! Also, being an island, Sicily has wonderful fish and shellfish.
A type of cauliflower, artichokes, fennel fronds, and more
Fish and squid
We round a cornier and see the very Norman looking towers of the cathedral. They look a lot like the towers we saw in Cefalu.
Towers of the Palermo Cathedral
Palermo Cathedral is a mash up of building styles from different ages. It was begun in the 12th century but not finished until the 18th century.
The beautiful portico on the front hails from around 1500.
Portico entrance to the Palermo Cathedral
Inside any of the older components have been redecorated away. The most interesting thing is the meridian or solar observatory. A small hole was made in a minor dome and the image of the sun is projected on the floor. With this device they were able to fix the time of the vernal equinox and to provide the correct date for Easter. The signs of the zodiac are a part of the instrument. Of course I take a picture of my sign, Sagittarius.
My sign, Sagittarius
Lots of church helpers are scurrying around getting the church ready for Easter. We see a guy on a ladder with a long pole shining up some of the decorations.
Man on ladder attending to shining up decorations for Easter
From here we walk to the Palace of the Normans. Much like the Palermo Cathedral it is a building that was added to over the centuries starting with the Emir of Palermo in the 800’s. The building is the oldest royal residence in Europe, the home of the rulers of the Kingdom of Sicily and imperial seat of Frederick II and Conrad IV. But what everyone comes to see is the Palatine Chapel added by King Roger II in 1132. The chapel is a mosaic jewel with influences from Arabic, Byzantine, and Norman architecture and art.
Sarah in the gardens in front of the palace
Back wall – Jesus with Peter and Paul
Creating Eve (on the right)
St. Paul hiding in a basket
Islamic wall decoration
Every inch of the Palatine Chapel is decorated with sparkling mosaics. The mosaics were made in the 12th century but they look like they could have been created yesterday.
We look around the rest of the building which is interesting but really takes a backseat to the chapel with the exception of King Roger II’s Hall which is interestingly mosaiced with each mosaic being a mirror image.
Mirror-imaged mosaics in King Roger’s Hall in the Norman Palace, Palermo
Time for lunch! It is hard to escape the “tourist special” kind of restaurant when you are in this section of the old city. We finally decide on Antica Trattoria mostly because they did not accost us as we walk down the street. The lunch is so-so. After seeing the tremendous amount of pasta in a serving I decide on pizza – bad choice. Sarah’s lunch turns out best. She has cacio e pepe.
Sarah’s cacio e pepe
My not-so-good pizza margarita. John’s pizza was about the same except with pepperoni
After lunch we head to Martorana, another church with mosaics. Since no one has checked to see when it is open, we find that it is closed until 3:30 PM. I am somewhat annoyed that my companions never take the initiative to find out when things are open. I have left the planning of the day to them and now we are stuck with over two hours to kill. We stop at the Liberty Bar and Sarah and I have an afigato which is espresso with vanilla gelato. John has a caffe corretto which is espressos with grappa.
Afigato – we should have ordered the espresso and gelato separately because the gelato was a tiny scoop and melted too quickly
Since we cannot figure out how to kill the two hours left, we decide to go back to the hotel for a little rest. I decide to opt out of the long walk back to the church. I have seen it once before and my knee needs a rest. Sarah and John go and have brought back pictures of this little church which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and built in the mid-12th century.
Exterior of the Martorana
Church interior overview
Nativity scene mosaic
Mary death with Jesus carrying her soul to heaven
St. Joachim, Mary’s father
St. Anne, Mary’s mother
Jesus crowning Roger II
All the buildings we have seen today are part of the same UNESCO World Heritage site that includes the Cefalu Cathedral. Tomorrow we will see the Monreale Cathedral which is the biggest example of this confluence of Byzantine, Norman, and Islamic art and architecture.
For dinner tonight we are going to Sapurito, Cucina Povera e Pizza. It belongs to the Slow Food Movment. We last ate at one of these restaurants in Pompeii . We hope this one will be as good. Turns out later I have some horrible distress from something I have eaten but I cannot say which of today’s foods is to blame.
We share an appetizer of fried artichoke
John has grilled squid that he really likes
Mary has involtini of veal (I think)
Sarah has an ancient grain pizza with pine nuts
We share a small dessert
Tomorrow (Tuesday) we are off to nearby Monreale to see the fabulous cathedral and then we head to the Palermo airport for a flight to Rome. On Wednesday we take the long flights home.