The Palazzo dei Normanni in Palermo is the oldest royal residence in Europe. The palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the current provincial seat. The main attraction is the Cappella Palatina.
Palazzo dei Normanni Palermo
Address, opening times and admission
Address: Piazza del Parlamento, 1 – Palermo. However, the tourist entrance is at Piazza Indipendenza. Telephone: (+39) 091 7055611. Opening hours: Monday to Saturday from 08.30 to 16.30; Sunday from 08.30 to 12.30. Admission fee: 19 Euros; ages 18-25: 17 Euros; over 65: 15,50 Euros; ages 14-17: 11 Euros.
The ticket includes the Cappella Palatina, Appartamenti Reali, Royal gardens, Archaeological Area and Exhibition. (On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, when the Royal Apartments cannot be visited, the entrance fee is 15,50 Euros; ages 18-25 and over 65: 13,50 Euros; ages 14-17: 9 Euros.
Note that on Sundays the Cappella Palatina is often closed between 09:30 and 11:30.)
The Cappella Palatina is closed on January 1, December 25.
History and description
In the past, the Palazzo dei Normanni served as the residence of the heads of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and later as the imperial seat of Frederick II and Corrado IV.
It was built on the site of the first settlements that led to the foundation of the city. This can be deduced from ruins found under the palace.
The western wing of the building is used by the Italian army.
The main attraction is the Cappella Palatina on the second floor. This chapel is actually a three-floor basilica dedicated to the Apostle Paul. It was commissioned by Ruggero II to serve as the church of the royal family. The dome, transept and apse are decorated with Byzantine mosaics.
The Cappella Palatina was built between 1130 and 1132, during the reign of Ruggero. It was then the chapel of the Royal Palace.
In 1132, the chapel was dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. With the passage of time, however, Paul was forgotten and the church came to be called simply San Pietro.
The right nave is still decorated with episodes from the life of Saint Paul, while the decorations of the left nave highlight events from the life of Saint Peter.
The chapel is a well-honed attempt by the Norman kings to merge Christian culture with the existing and more lavish decorations of the Arab world.
The chapel is entirely covered with a mosaic executed by Byzantine masters. Christ Pantokrator is depicted in the center of the dome. He is flanked by a number of angels and archangels.
The church has three naves, separated by two rows of five gray-granite Egyptian columns.
The floor mosaic shows recurring, repeating motifs. The most striking part of the floor is the section under the dome, which shows clear Byzantine influences.
The equally richly decorated ceiling is characterized by stalactites and paintings in an Arabic style. It consists of two rows of octagonal star-shaped cassettes. These stars have geometric figures on the inside and ancient Arabic scripture on the outside.
Highlights are the Cortile Maqueda, with Renaissance loggias, and the Cortile della Fontana. These courtyards are connected by monumental staircases.
From the central square one can visit the Santa Maria delle Grazie Church.
Above the Galleria Palatina are the royal rooms, with the Hall of Hercules, the Hall of the Viceroy, the Hall of the Winds, and the Hall of Pompeii.
Of the four towers, only two remain standing in their entirety. These are the Torre Pisana and the Torre del Tesoro. The latter is also known as Torre Gioaria. The Sala Ruggero is in the Torre Pisana and is also decorated with Byzantine mosaics. What is unusual is that these have profane themes. Little remains of the Torre Greca.
Part of the palace basement is taken up by the Sale Duca di Montalto. This was originally an ammunition depot, but when the Bourbons took over the palace it was converted into a stable. Today, these halls are used as exhibition spaces.
The artworks on display are mostly from the 19th and 20th centuries. Artists represented include Francesco Lojacono, Antonino Leto, Joan Mirò and Renato Guttuso.