Monreale Cathedral
the context 2

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

The young William II’s ambitious project not only represented an important religious testimony in defence of the Papacy, but was also an eloquent example of the sovereign’s self-celebration and the attribution of privileges that only belonged to the Emperor of Constantinople. It also functioned strategically to defend Palermo, the capital of the Norman kingdom, on the stretch of road linking it to the Val di Mazara, where the Saracens were still active. In addition, the Cathedral was intended to become a mausoleum, reserved for the king and his dynasty.
The news about the fast pace, dictated by historical circumstances, as well as political and religious reasons, with which the construction was carried out, also involved Pope Lucius III . In the presence of such a grandiose work, he elevated Monreale to the status of Archbishopric, naming it for the first time in a Papal Bull of 1183. Records show that, as early as 1176, two years after its foundation, the construction of the cathedral was in such rapid progress that about a hundred monks from the Benedictine monastery in Cava, near Salerno,were able to enter the new monastery .A certain clue regarding the speed at which the cathedral was built is the date on the  bronze door of the main portal by Bonanno da Pisa , which is dated 1185.

Door and gateway to paradise
The Monreale cathedral doorway is an example of the reuse of ancient marble. It is made of spoliated marble: Greek marble, Parian marble and Proconnesian marble. It is cusp-shaped and has four ogival rings. It is richly decorated with bands of figurative, geometric and other abstract motifs in relief, and opus sectile inlays with star-shaped polygons. Set into this ancient portal is the bronze door, the work of the artist Bonanno Pisano, who had already distinguished himself in Pisa, where he designed the lost bronze doors of Pisa Cathedral. The authorship of the Monreale work is also indicated by the inscription: “Anno / D(omi)ni / MCL / XXXVI / i(n)dictio(n)e / III Bon(n)a / nus ci / vis Pis / anus / me fe / cit”. The bronze door of Monreale, with two doors carved in relief or agemina, was cast and then arrived on site in 1185 (1186 according to the index). In the 44 panels, scenes from the Old Testament are depicted in the five lower registers, with scenes from the New Testament in the five upper registers. Being a kind of Biblia pauperum, the two registers are united by the representation of the twelve prophets. Further panels are found at the bottom with pairs of lions and griffins facing each other and at the top with Mary and Christ in glory. The gate is also known as the Gates of Paradise, and going through it meant reaching the splendour of the Heavenly Jerusalem and being able to enjoy the beauty and magnificence of the mosaics. Like most of the bronze doors of the time, the one designed by Bonanno was probably rectangular, but was adapted to the doorway with a pointed-arch crowning. This could be the reason why the upper representations of the Madonna in Glory and Christ in Glory are partly hidden by the doorway. The portal was therefore made before the Pisano panels.

In that year, we can deduce that the construction was completed and the interior decoration was in full swing. It is likely that the architectural part of the grandiose complex consisting of the church, the  monastery and the royal palace had to be completed before the king’s premature death in 1189. From this date onwards, historical events partly compromised William II’s religious and political dream, which only a few centuries later attracted unrelenting attention in praise of its magnificence.

The area of the Sanctuary

The lost chapel

The Kings’ Cathedrals

The rediscovered chapel

The southern portico

Roger II’s strategic design

The Great Restoration

A remarkable ceiling

The stone bible

Gardens and architecture as a backdrop to the city of Palermo

A mixture of styles pervades the floor decorations

A controversial interpretation

A Northern population

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

The longest aisle

Layers of different cultures decorate the external apses

The senses tell Context 1

The cultural substrate through time

The chapel of san Castrense: an important renaissance work

The cemetery of kings

The side aisles

The Great Presbytery: a unique space for the cathedral

Porphyry sarcophagi: royalty and power

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

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

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

Norman religious architecture with islamic influences in Sicily

The towers facing the facade used as bell towers

A space between the visible and the invisible

Transformations over the centuries

The beginning of the construction site

A polysemy of high-level artistic forms and content

A new Cathedral

The Bible carved in stone

The decorated facade

The Cathedral over the centuries

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

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

A chapel by an unknown designer based on repeated symmetries

The balance between architecture and light

The Chapel of the Kings

The towers and the western facade

Under the crosses of the Bema

Ecclesia munita

Roger II of hauteville: a sovereign protected by God

The liturgical spaces of the protesis and the diaconicon

Two initially similar towers, varied over time

The Virgin Hodegetria

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

Cefalù: settlement evidence through time

The original design

Worship services

The transformations of the hall through the centuries

The dialogue between the architectures of the monumental complex

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

Characteristics of religious architecture in the romanesque period

Palermo: the happiest city

Interior decorations

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

The chapel of St. Benedict

Survey of the royal tombs

Beyond the harmony of proportions

The Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene

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

Squaring the circle

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

A palimpsest of history

Mosaic decoration

The mosaics of the presbytery

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

A tree full of life

The chystro: a place between earth and sky

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

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

A cloister of accentuated stylistic variety

The construction of Monreale Cathedral: between myth and history

The medieval city amidst monasticism and feudal aristocracy

Artistic elements in Peter’s ship

The Gualtiero Cathedral

The mosaics of the apses

The chorus: beating heart of the cathedral

From the Mosque to the Cathedral

The king’s mark