the church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio
the external architecture and the original layout

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

Over five centuries, numerous renovations and modifications transformed the medieval building, which had typical Byzantine features and a very compact Greek cross layout. Today, the Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio denotes a mixture of different styles: the brightness and splendour of the Greek mosaics, with the figure of Christ Pantocrator

Christ Pantocrator enthroned At the centre of the dome and surrounded by four adoring angels, the Christ Pantocrator of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio is enclosed in a medallion containing verses from the Gospel of John: “I am the light of the world; He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” The Pantocrator, from the Greek word for ‘ruler of all things’, has his right hand raised in the act of blessing the faithful: the two arched fingers symbolise Christ’s dual nature, divine and earthly, while the other three, joined together, are an allegory of the Holy Trinity. This hand pose was also used in ancient times by Roman emperors when they asked for silence. With his left hand, he holds a closed volume: the Gospel. Christ Pantocrator, majestic and with a stern but benevolent gaze, is crowned with a crusader’s nimbus in memory of his sacrifice, richly decorated with gems and jewels. On either side of the nimbus, the Greek letters IC XC, meaning Jesus Christ, are present. He has long, flowing hair and a rosy complexion. Christ Pantocrator is the Almighty, the King of Kings, he has a light-coloured robe and a blue mantle, which symbolises humanity. The iconography, of classical Byzantine origin, is often found in the Christian Middle East, and is widespread throughout southern Italy, but while he is depicted as a half-length figure in Monreale and Cefalù, he is seated on a throne in the Martorana, with symmetrical feet.
on a throne as the centrepiece, as if in an ascending climax, are flanked by 18th-century fresco decorations, and the architecture, with the presence of Arab elements, contrasts with the splendour of the late Baroque decorations, since the church underwent numerous renovations from 1588.At first, the layout was lengthened and the original façade with the narthex   was demolished. The atrium was covered and transformed, with the addition of the choir, supported by eight columns. In the following centuries, the fresco decoration was also completed.Buildings such as Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio, which the Arab traveller Ibn Gubayr defined as “one of the most beautiful monuments in the world” with its original Byzantine style and centric plan, are examples of Greek architecture in Sicily, found in numerous buildings in Constantinople, such as San Giovanni in Studio, and comparable to the Cattolica di Stilo and other buildings in Albania and Serbia.In particular, the Church of the Sopocani Monastery in Serbia, built around the 13th century, has the same solid and compact layout, a large porticoed entrance narthex and the bell tower in front, in axis with the building. The Martorana, however, differs from the Constantinopolitan buildings, where the exterior has a rather complex alternation of shapes and volumes.The volumetry of the Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio is characterised by a compact, simple, square and robust form, typical of other Norman constructions which are rich in symbolic decorations, both in public and, as in this case, private buildings, alluding to the exaltation of temporal power.The artistic language, which is translated into certain architectural solutions, can be shared with that of the Palatine Chapel and San Cataldo , where, in line with the stylistic and programmatic choices adopted by Roger II , we note the same articulation of the roofs and similar decorative motifs in the marble flooring.

The senses tell the historical context

The Cassaro

The mosaics of the naves

The senses tell the architecture and decorations

Saint Peter’s Chapel in the Royal Palace

The senses tell the flooring

An architectural crescendo

the Baroque interior

The Genoard Park, the garden of pleasures and wonders

The flooring: shapes, motifs and iconography

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


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

The senses tell the ceiling

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

The senses tell the mosaic cycle

The senses tell the historical context

A building constructed in a short space of time

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


From oblivion to the recovery of memory

The senses tell the architecture

Shapes and colours of the wooden ceiling

The birth of the Norman kingdom

The rediscovered palace

the Baroque exterior

Intertwining of knowledge in Norman Palermo

The mosaics of the transept and the apses

The senses tell the Zisa over the centuries

The senses tell restorations

The senses tell baroque decoration

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

The Palace of Kings

The Admiral’s dedication

The architectural space

The senses tell the interior

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

The architectural appearance and transformations over time

The mosaic cycle, an ascending path towards the light

The interior of the church

The return of water

The decorations on the bell tower

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

From earthquake to collapse

The senses tell the external architecture and the original layout

The Royal Throne

The senses tell the historical context

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

The opus sectile floor of the Palatine Chapel