Criteria for the inclusion of Palermo Arab-Norman and the Cefalù and Monreale Cathedrals in the WHL

Inscription in the UNESCO World Heritage List
Bonn (Germany) 2015 

The World Heritage Committee, after having examined the documents, has inscribed the Arab-Norman Palermo Site and the Cefalù and Monreale Cathedral Churches in the World Heritage List, on the basis of criteria (ii) and (iv);

Brief summary of the Declaration of Outstanding Universal Value
Located on the northern coast of the Italian island of Sicily, Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cefalù and Monreale Cathedral Churches are a series of nine religious and civil structures dating back to the era of the Norman kingdom of Sicily (1130-1194). Two palaces, three churches, a cathedral and a bridge are located in Palermo, the capital of the kingdom, and two cathedrals are in the towns of Monreale and Cefalù. Collectively, they represent an outstanding example of socio-cultural syncretism between Western, Islamic and Byzantine cultures. This exchange gave rise to a new kind of architectural and artistic expression based on new concepts of space, structure and decoration that spread widely throughout the Mediterranean region.
The monuments that make up this 6,235 hectare Serial Heritage Site include the Royal Palace and the Palatine Chapel; the Zisa Palace; the Palermo Cathedral; the Monreale Cathedral; the Cefalù Cathedral; the Church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti; the Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio; the Church of San Cataldo; and the Admiral’s Bridge.
Each of these illustrates important aspects of the Western-Islamic-Byzantine multicultural syncretism that characterised the Norman kingdom of Sicily during the 12th century. The innovative reworking of architectural forms, structures and materials and their artistic, decorative and iconographic treatments, in particular the rich and extensive mosaics, opus sectile floors, inlays, sculptural elements, paintings and furnishings, celebrate the fruitful coexistence of people of different origins.

Criterion (ii): Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cefalù and Monreale Cathedral Churches are evidence of a particular political and cultural condition characterised by the fruitful coexistence of peoples of different origins (Muslim, Byzantine, Latin, Jewish, Lombard and French). This exchange generated a conscious and unique combination of elements, derived from the architectural and artistic techniques of Byzantine, Islamic and Western traditions. This new style contributed to the development of architecture on the Tyrrhenian side of southern Italy and spread widely throughout the medieval Mediterranean region.

Criterion (iv): Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cefalù and Monreale Cathedral Churches are an exceptional example of stylistic synthesis that created new spatial, constructional and decorative concepts through the innovative and coherent reworking of elements from different cultures.

Serial Heritage includes all the elements necessary to express its proposed Outstanding Universal Value, including religious, civil and engineering works and is, therefore, of adequate size to ensure the full representation of the features and processes which convey the significance of the Heritage, which does not suffer, unduly, from the negative effects of development or neglect.

The cultural value of Heritage and its individual components is expressed truthfully and credibly through attributes such as their location and setting, forms and design, materials and substances, uses and functions. The authenticity of the mosaics, in particular, has been confirmed by experts in the field of Byzantine mosaics.

The rediscovered chapel

The birth of the Norman kingdom

The senses tell baroque decoration

Squaring the circle

The marble portal: an intimate dialogue between complex ornamental aspects and formal structure

The Admiral’s dedication

The architectural space

Tempus fugit: a strategic project implemented in a short period of time

The lost chapel

The architectural envelope: the Greek cross layout oriented towards the light

A palimpsest of history

Thirteenth-century iconography decorates the nave’s wooden ceiling, designed with new solutions

Survey of the royal tombs

The links between the hauteville family and the monastic orders in Sicily

The senses tell the flooring

Criteria for the inclusion of Palermo Arab-Norman and the Cefalù and Monreale Cathedrals in the WHL

The opus sectile floor of the Palatine Chapel

From the Mosque to the Cathedral

A tree full of life

The beautiful Zisa and its garden: solacium regi among sounds, colours and scents

The Palace of Kings

The senses tell the architecture

The cemetery of kings

Two initially similar towers, varied over time

The senses tell the ceiling

From earthquake to collapse

The Kings’ Cathedrals

A mixture of styles pervades the floor decorations

The Cathedral over the centuries

The Cefalù cathedral: a construction yard undergoing a change between a surge of faith and control over the territory

The columns of the nave: the meticulous study of the overall order

An architectural crescendo

The decorated facade

Palermo: the happiest city

Mosaic decoration

Characteristics of religious architecture in the romanesque period

The senses tell the historical context

The rediscovered palace

The towers and the western facade

Artistic elements in Peter’s ship

A space between the visible and the invisible

The king’s mark

The Genoard Park, the garden of pleasures and wonders

Porphyry sarcophagi: royalty and power

the roof of Paradise: one of the most representative works of medieval art

The senses tell restorations

Roger II of hauteville: a sovereign protected by God

Norman religious architecture with islamic influences in Sicily

Biblical themes enlivened by the dazzling light of the stained – glass windows overlooking the naves

The decorations on the bell tower

A Northern population

A cloister of accentuated stylistic variety

The senses tell the historical context

The chapel of the crucifix: an artistic casket based on a previous model

The architectural modifications ti the cathedral building after the death of Roger II and the transformations of the cloister

Cefalù: settlement evidence through time

Roger II’s strategic design

The mosaics of the naves

A remarkable ceiling

The original design

The mosaic cycle, an ascending path towards the light

The construction of Monreale Cathedral: between myth and history

The chystro: a place between earth and sky

The liturgical spaces of the protesis and the diaconicon

The Virgin Hodegetria

The Norman conquest of Sicily and the birth of a new Latin kingdom


The senses tell the Zisa over the centuries

Shapes and colours of the wooden ceiling

From oblivion to the recovery of memory

Under the crosses of the Bema

Gardens and architecture as a backdrop to the city of Palermo

The plasticism of the main portico and Bonanno Pisano’s Monumental Bronze Door


The ancient convent of the Martorana, a history of devotion and tradition

Gold and light: the splendour of the mosaics in the Royal Chapel

The senses tell the external architecture and the original layout

The Cassaro

The loca solatiorum: dwellings for recreation, well-being and hunting

Saint Peter’s Chapel in the Royal Palace

The flooring: shapes, motifs and iconography

The mosaics of the transept and the apses

The southern portico

The side aisles

The dialogue between the architectures of the monumental complex

A polysemy of high-level artistic forms and content

The mosaics of the presbytery

The chapel of St. Benedict

Interior decorations

Layers of different cultures decorate the external apses

The senses tell the architecture and decorations

The senses tell the historical context

The Bible carved in stone

A controversial interpretation

Intertwining of knowledge in Norman Palermo

Transformations over the centuries

The senses tell the interior

the Baroque interior

The return of water

The beginning of the construction site

The Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene

The chorus: beating heart of the cathedral

The balance between architecture and light

A new Cathedral

The Royal Throne

The senses tell Context 1

Ecclesia munita

The architectural appearance and transformations over time

The longest aisle

The area of the Sanctuary

The cultural substrate through time

The transformations of the hall through the centuries

The mosaics of the apses

The Chapel of the Kings

The stone bible

Worship services

The Gualtiero Cathedral

The senses tell the mosaic cycle

Beyond the harmony of proportions

From the main gate to the aisles: an invitation to a journey of faith

The Great Restoration

The towers facing the facade used as bell towers

The side Portico: a combination of elegance and lightness of form

The Great Presbytery: a unique space for the cathedral

A chapel by an unknown designer based on repeated symmetries

The chapel of san Castrense: an important renaissance work

A compositional design that combines nordic examples with new artistic languages, over the centuries

The medieval city amidst monasticism and feudal aristocracy

The interior of the church

A building constructed in a short space of time

the Baroque exterior

Different styles and transformations of “one of the most beautiful monuments in the world”

The paradisiacal “Conca d’oro” that embraces Palermo: a name with countless faces through time