Palermo’s cathedral, churches and chapels

Sicily lies at the crossroads of Western civilisation. Over thousands of years a myriad of empires and forces have occupied the island from Greeks & Romans, Byzantines & Arabs, Italians & French and left a permanent impression on its architecture, culture and religion. The island’s strategic position between Africa, the Mediterranean and the Adriatic gave it a crucial task to protect the southern flank of Catholic Italy. This is reflected in Palermo’s skyline where domes & spires & turrets & towers compete to protect the souls of rich and poor alike.

Palermo’s Duomo is a treasure of Norman architecture, built in 1184 as a reconverted Christian church on the site of a Muslim Mosque, which in turn was built on the site of a Christian basilica. Over the centuries the cathedral has blended numerous influences from the island’s history – Gothic, medieval, Arabic, neoclassical into one impressive place of worship reflecting its prominent position on the world stage.

The Piazza Bellini contains three churches. The Baroque church & monastery of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria is a prize for the tourist. The church itself is plastered in scenes from the bible.

Its monastery, the tranquillity of its shaded garden and cool corridors, provide a peace where monks could contemplate and oversee the prayers through high latticed walkways.

But the best is reached by narrow stairs past the original roof tiles and mortar, now covered with thick timbers and tiles and out onto narrow balconies providing a great vista of the domes and bell towers of Palermo’s churches, chapels and palaces.

Piazza Pretorio can be seen below with its dry fountain ready for action.

On the other side of the square are two churches, side by side. The small Church of San Cataldo, with its unusual red domes, was built as a chapel in a larger complex of buildings by Islamic workers in 1154. Santa Maria dell’ Ammiraglio, founded in 1140, was built as a private chapel.

Palermo’s tangle of dark streets and alleys hides so many churches and chapels, only given away by a shafted angle of sunlight that penetrates the clumps and lines of buildings to highlight a golden bell tower or an ancient pinnacled cross.

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