the church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio
the historical context

The Admiral’s dedication

The Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio stands in what is now the brightly lit Piazza Bellini in Palermo’s historic centre, occupying a privileged position on a hill next to the Church of San Cataldo and opposite the Church of Santa Caterina.
According to a document from May 1143, kept in the tabulary of the Palatine Chapel, the church was built ex novo at the behest of Admiral George of Antioch who, after living first in Syria, where he held financial posts, moved to Tunisia to serve the Emir Al Madia. In 1112, he moved to Palermo where he very quickly became admiral and official of the first king of Sicily Roger II .
The document, written in Arabic and Greek, also states that the church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, as it was the Admiral’s wish to thank her for the protection she had offered him and for the advancement of his fruitful career. Although the document is dated 1143, it is thought that the construction of the church took place in earlier years, around 1140, and given the mixture of styles, a number of Greek and local craftsmen worked on it over time, at least until 1185. The last works concerned both the bell tower and the outer narthex.
George of Antioch allocated a large amount of money and spared no expense for the decoration of the small church, undoubtedly inspired by the wealth and splendour of the Palatine Chapel . In fact, the mosaic cycle of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio, created by Byzantine craftsmen, is meticulously studied from an aesthetic and symbolic, as well as an ideological, point of view.
The Admiral himself, as was the custom of the Norman sovereigns, is portrayed wearing a lavish robe, decorated with panels, in front of the Virgin Mary, in the act of proskynesis . On the opposite side, instead, the mosaic represents Roger II being crowned by the hands of Christ.

The mosaic panel depicting Roger being crowned by Christ was presumably located in the narthex, which was demolished at the end of the 16th century due to structural changes to the church layout. It can now be seen in the entrance hall, on the right, symmetrically to the one depicting Admiral George of Antioch kneeling before the Virgin Mary. Two figures emerge from the gold background, one of Roger II, the first king of Sicily, and the other of Christ. The sovereign has his head reclined, his eyes turned towards the faithful and his hands outstretched in a prayerful and adoring attitude. He is dressed in a sumptuous and rich Byzantine robe and a crown with pearl side pendants. Christ is placed slightly higher, his gaze is majestic and stern, he holds a scroll in one hand and crowns Roger with the other. Both are accompanied by Greek inscriptions identifying them as “King Roger” and “Christ”. This mosaic panel, with its strong symbolic importance, also holds a political message: Roger is crowned directly by Christ, with no other earthly intermediary; his power comes from God.
The senses tell the historical context

The Palace of Kings

The architectural space

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

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

The senses tell baroque decoration

The Genoard Park, the garden of pleasures and wonders

The senses tell the mosaic cycle

The interior of the church

The senses tell the historical context

the Baroque interior

Intertwining of knowledge in Norman Palermo

The birth of the Norman kingdom

The senses tell the historical context

The flooring: shapes, motifs and iconography

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

The return of water

The senses tell the architecture and decorations

Saint Peter’s Chapel in the Royal Palace

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

The senses tell the interior

The rediscovered palace

The senses tell the architecture

The senses tell the ceiling

The senses tell the Zisa over the centuries

The senses tell restorations

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

An architectural crescendo

The Admiral’s dedication


From oblivion to the recovery of memory

The senses tell the flooring

The senses tell the external architecture and the original layout

the Baroque exterior


The mosaics of the naves

The architectural appearance and transformations over time

A building constructed in a short space of time

The decorations on the bell tower

The Royal Throne

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

Shapes and colours of the wooden ceiling

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

The Cassaro

From earthquake to collapse

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

The mosaic cycle, an ascending path towards the light

The opus sectile floor of the Palatine Chapel

The mosaics of the transept and the apses