Architecture
The Palatine Chapel

The architectural space

The king’s private chapel was built as a basilica in the form of a Latin cross , with a longitudinal plan and three naves , separated by five pointed arches on each side, on piers supported by columns and capitals in a composite style.
The sixteen columns, including those that also support the triumphal arch and the arches of the prothesis and the diaconicon , are of granite and cipolin marble.
The focus of the building is the presbytery, raised, with respect to the naves, with a central plan that ends with the three apses , characterised by the presence of recessed porphyry columnsat the corners, typical of Islamic art.

Christ Pantocrator in the Dome
Hieratic and solemn, the Christ Pantocrator in the dome of the Palatine Chapel is depicted within a tondo, surrounded by a host of angels and archangels, emanating light like a casket of divine light. The Pantocrator, from the Greek word for ruler of all things, blesses the faithful with his right hand: 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 the Gospel, depicted as a closed book richly decorated with precious stones. Usually, however, the book has an open page, either in Greek and Latin, which contains the phrase from the Gospel of John: “I am the light of the world; Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”. Christ Pantocrator, majestic and with a stern but benevolent gaze, is crowned with a crusader’s nimbus in memory of his sacrifice. He has long, flowing hair and a rosy complexion. Christ Pantocrator is the Almighty, the King of Kings. He has a golden robe, symbolic of divinity, and a blue mantle, symbolic of humanity. The iconography, of classical Byzantine derivation, is often found in the Christian Middle East, and is widespread throughout the south of Italy in frescoes, while in Sicily it has also been mosaicked in the Cathedrals of Monreale, Cefalù and Palermo. Christ is immersed in a golden and luminous sky, a casket of light to which every believer, once inside the Cathedral, approaches on this upward journey towards Salvation.

The space is surmounted by a Byzantine-style dome, connected by spandrels to the square base. The east-facing presbytery was separated from the naves by the iconostasis, typical of churches of the Greek rite . The division between the liturgical areas is also underlined by the decorations: the presbytery is sacred and of Eastern Byzantine matrix , since the area of the sanctuary had a function dedicated to the religious rite, while the decorations on the body are of Islamic tradition since they adorned the more secular part of the building.The royal throne is located in central bay on the western wall, opposite the sanctuary. It is Romanesque in style, raised by five steps and decorated with opus sectile marble.

Royal Throne
The royal throne is located on the western wall, opposite the Sanctuary. Romanesque in style, it dates back to around the 12th century and is decorated entirely in opus sectile, an ancient technique that consisted of depicting animal or human figures and geometric elements through inlays and the use of small tiles and slabs of marble or glass paste. This technique, which is considered to be very prestigious because of the material used, was mainly used in the Middle Ages, both in paving and in wall decorations, giving a greater brilliance and a skilful interplay of colours. But even Pliny the Elder, in his Naturalis historia, mentions it because it was used in the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus in the 4th century BC. The throne of the Norman kings is characterised by the extensive use of porphyry, a marble which over the centuries became a symbol of strength and glory and which, in the throne, takes on the significance of exalting power. Raised by five steps, decorated with opus sectile floor tiles formed of semi-precious stones, from the floor level of the church, it has geometric decoration. The wall of the royal gallery consists of six squares, enclosed within a frame of porphyry slabs, and surmounted by a triangle of polychrome inlay. Inside each square are geometric and floral motifs of typical Arab origin, while the steps, floor, back and armrests have cosmatesque style inlays. The side plutei, with sectile inlays depicting quincunxes and bands with eight-pointed stars, were possibly added in the Aragonese period. On the upper part of the wall, there are decorations with intertwining floral motifs and, inside circles and in symmetrical and mirror-like positions, two majestic lions, expressions of royalty and power. The throne was of great importance from a political point of view. From this space, the sovereign attended liturgical celebrations and could enjoy the view of the entire mosaic cycle of the Chapel.

The contrast and dialogue between the area dedicated to divine worship and the area dedicated to the King, which becomes a sort of royal classroom, is also evident in the repetition of the depiction of Christ Pantocrator between the apostles Peter and Paul in the space above the throne.

Christ Enthroned, between Saints Peter and Paul
Above the royal throne stands the majestic Christ Pantocrator, enthroned between Saints Peter and Paul. The iconography of the representation is purely political, since the enthroned Christ with the two saints seem to legitimise the temporal power of the sovereigns who presided over the celebrations from the throne decorated in opus sectile. St Peter and St Paul, as well as, in the upper part, the two archangels Michael and Gabriel, turn their gaze towards Christ Pantocrator, static, immobile, majestic and hieratic. The Pantocrator, from the Greek word for ruler of all things, blesses the faithful with his right hand: 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 firmly the Gospel, depicted here as a closed volume. Christ Pantocrator, with a stern but benevolent gaze, is crowned with a crusader’s nimbus in memory of his sacrifice. He has long, flowing hair and a rosy complexion. Christ Pantocrator is the Almighty, the King of Kings. He has a golden robe, symbolic of divinity, and a blue mantle, symbolic of humanity. Golden tiles form the backdrop for the entire narrative.

This particular courtroom seems to be reminiscent of the westwork , or western body of work. Widespread between the late 9th century and the 10th century in Carolingian churches, it was a space of considerable political importance where rulers attended religious services. Inside the chapel, one can see the various stratifications: the mosaic decoration of the presbytery had two stages, both during the reign of Roger; the mosaics and opus sectile decorations of the naves date back to the time of William I, while the mosaics of the counter-façade and the insertion of the precious ambo , the Easter candelabra and the baptismal font date back to the time of William II.

Paschal candelabra
The candelabra of the Palatine Chapel, a masterpiece of the Sicilian Romanesque style, is currently located to the right of the ambo. The terminal part, the patera, contained the Paschal candle, used in Easter night services and symbolic of the light of Christ rising and overcoming darkness. The candelabrum, made of white marble, reaches a height of four and a half metres. It has a monolithic shaft, presumably from an ancient column, divided into five orders of relief, in which are carved scenes connected by acanthus leaves. In the solid and compact base, lions, the symbol of Norman power, are depicted in the act of attacking both men and two other quadrupedal animals. This is followed by a band decorated with vines and acanthus leaves recalling Paradise, by an eagle and by a lion hunting scene. Higher up is Christ in mandorla, blessing, enthroned, holding a book in his hand and supported by two angels, while a man wearing a mitre and pallium, identified as Roger II or an archbishop, bows and prostrates himself at his feet. On the upper part, eagles with prey in their talons are sculpted, binding themselves to elegant peacocks, and flowering vines. On the opposite side is a human figure accompanied by an angel. Finally, three half-naked figures hold up the stem where the Paschal candelabrum is placed.

The Treasure of the Palatine lies in an adjoining space to the church. It contains sacred ornaments, furnishings, monstrances, reliquaries and other precious objects  that have been used by the clergy over the centuries. Of particular interest is the Tabulario , consisting of ancient diplomas and important documents.

The senses tell the architecture

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

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

The architectural space

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

The mosaic cycle, an ascending path towards the light

From oblivion to the recovery of memory

The senses tell the flooring

The return of water

Restorations

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

The Royal Throne

The senses tell the historical context

The senses tell baroque decoration

The senses tell the interior

The senses tell the Zisa over the centuries

The senses tell restorations

The opus sectile floor of the Palatine Chapel

A building constructed in a short space of time

The interior of the church

Intertwining of knowledge in Norman Palermo

The decorations on the bell tower

The mosaics of the naves

The senses tell the historical context

Decorations

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

The senses tell the historical context

the Baroque exterior

The Admiral’s dedication

Saint Peter’s Chapel in the Royal Palace

Shapes and colours of the wooden ceiling

An architectural crescendo

The senses tell the mosaic cycle

The Palace of Kings

The senses tell the ceiling

From earthquake to collapse

the Baroque interior

The senses tell the architecture and decorations

The senses tell the external architecture and the original layout

The Cassaro

The Genoard Park, the garden of pleasures and wonders

The birth of the Norman kingdom

The mosaics of the transept and the apses

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

The flooring: shapes, motifs and iconography

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

The architectural appearance and transformations over time

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

The rediscovered palace