the church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio
the interior

The mosaic cycle, an ascending path towards the light

The mosaics of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio, attributable to Byzantine masters, cover most of the walls and vaults. Despite the fact that the original layout was affected by the alterations carried out between 1500 and 1700, the mosaic cycle of the Martorana is certainly one of the best preserved of the period. To welcome the faithful, there are two mosaics, with the scenes that represent the admiral Giorgio D'Antiochia, kneeling in front of the Madonna

The mosaic panel bearing the dedication of the founder, George of Antioch, 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 left, symmetrically to the one depicting King Roger II being crowned by Christ. Looking at the scene specifically, at the top right, Christ appears in a blue tondo, depicted as a half-length figure: in his left hand he holds a scroll while with his right hand he is blessing the two protagonists, the Virgin and the Admiral. Mary stands out in the centre holding an open scroll with an inscription in Greek reading a plea for her son to intervene on behalf of the founder. With the other hand, however, she welcomes the admiral’s very own dedication. George, in a sumptuous and richly patterned robe, is kneeling, with an attitude of proskynesis. He has flowing hair, a white beard and open hands outstretched towards the Virgin.

and Roger II being crowned directly from 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.

These panels were located in the ancient narthex , before the narthex and the porticoed courtyard were demolished at the end of the 16th century, to give the building a basilica-like plan, typical of the Latin rite. Adjacent to the mosaic, with the dedication to the Virgin, is the Chapel of the Rosary, while the Chapel of Saints Simon and Judas is symmetrical.The focal point of the entire mosaic cycle is the vault of the dome with the Christ Pantocrator , represented seated on a throne

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.

In the dome four archangels , Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel , dressed in rich robes, bow down to him in the act of adoration, while in the octagonal drum of the dome, there are eight prophets , David, Isaiah, Zechariah, Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel and Elisha, depicted with their right hands in an act of adoration and with their left hands clutching the scroll of prophecies. In the corner niches, intent on writing, the four evangelists   Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are present. The cycle continues in the transept , on the barrel vaults of the two arms, where eight apostles are depicted standing in pairs: Peter and Andrew, James and Paul, Thomas and Philip, Simon and Bartholomew.There are four main scenes, which symbolise the cycle of the Byzantine feasts since they narrate the most representative and important events in the life of Christ: the Nativity and the Dormitio Verginis   (Dormition of the Mother of God), placed in the western vault of the central space; the Presentation of Jesus at Temple , in the transversal arch and The Annunciation , in the triumphal arch which divides the space of the Bema .In the inner sides of the arches, there are medallions with busts of martyred and military saints; the bishops are placed in the triumphal arch. In the band of the Bema, in the two side apses, there are depictions of St. Joachim and St. Anne , as a tribute to Mary’s parents, while the creation of the square chapel in the place of the original apse meant that all the mosaic decoration was lost.The entire mosaic cycle has many different decorations: plant themes such as trees  in the drum of the dome and in the bays; psalm passages on the arches that frame the two side apses and a precious starry sky with six-pointed stars on a dark blue background in the vault of the four corner bays.

The senses tell the Zisa over the centuries

The mosaics of the transept and the apses

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

The mosaics of the naves

From earthquake to collapse

The senses tell the architecture and decorations

The senses tell the historical context

the Baroque exterior

An architectural crescendo

The flooring: shapes, motifs and iconography

The senses tell the historical context

the Baroque interior

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

The senses tell the architecture

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

The return of water

The interior of the church

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

The architectural appearance and transformations over time

The Cassaro

The senses tell the external architecture and the original layout

The decorations on the bell tower

Intertwining of knowledge in Norman Palermo

The birth of the Norman kingdom

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

The senses tell the historical context

The opus sectile floor of the Palatine Chapel

The senses tell the interior

The senses tell baroque decoration

A building constructed in a short space of time

The Palace of Kings

The rediscovered palace

The architectural space

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

The senses tell the ceiling

The senses tell the flooring

The Royal Throne

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

The senses tell restorations

The Genoard Park, the garden of pleasures and wonders

Shapes and colours of the wooden ceiling

From oblivion to the recovery of memory

The Admiral’s dedication

Saint Peter’s Chapel in the Royal Palace

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

The mosaic cycle, an ascending path towards the light


The senses tell the mosaic cycle