According to the testimony of
, we can deduce that the palace of the Zisa was built in a short time and with a huge expenditure. These characteristics are not dissimilar to those of other imposing structures of the Norman period, since the wide availability of craftsmen, not only native but also from North Africa, with a solid scientific knowledge of construction techniques, allowed for rapid execution of the construction work. The time taken to build the Zisa could be calculated from the year 1166, which marked the death of
. It is possible to assume that work began a few years earlier, between 1164 and 1165. The palace was finished and decorated in the early years of the reign of
, immediately after these dates. This temporal circumstance could reasonably advance the hypothesis that the Zisa was not built ex novo.
The Normans’ interest in Islamic culture can be seen in the main façade of the palace, which bears an epigraphic frieze in kufic characters in the crowning, partly destroyed today due to the transformation it underwent at various times. According to 19th-century studies, the figure of William II of Hauteville, “eager for glory”, is glorified in an inscription in the ambulatory preceding the fountain room, the transcription of which includes the following verses: “this is the earthly paradise that opens to the eye, this is Musta’iz and this (palace) al’Aziz”.
The Islamic custom of juxtaposing adjectives with a particular identifying resonance can be found here. In this case, the current name of Zisa derives from the word al-aziz (the splendid, the magnificent).