Monreale Cathedral
the cathedral's exterior

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

The front elevation of the Cathedral is distinguished by the sense of grandeur of its portico.
From its very foundation, it was intended to take the faithful on a journey, steeped in mysticism and wonder, into the imposing building of Monreale, dedicated to Santa Maria la Nuova.Nothing remains of the original structure, which was decorated on the inside with marble slabs in the lower area, embellished with mosaics that extended into the upper area. The original structure was altered following several collapses, starting in 1631. This was followed by an initial renovation that culminated in 1633 with Pietro Novelli ’s fresco decoration.
The year 1770 is remembered for another collapse and, again, the porticoed space was rebuilt by Ignazio Marabitti , based on a project by Antonio Romano .In the Baroque period, there was a sense of unity in terms of ornamental syntax that came with observing the western façade, almost as if we were being invited to immerse ourselves in the now non-existent rich decoration that enveloped the walls and the archivolts.
From references to subjects in the central apse, with the mosaic depicting a pair of archangels above the two central columns, to the images of saints that occupied the three rounded arches , elegantly placed on four cipollino marble Corinthian columns. Similarly, the interior of the portico also featured a Mariological cycle , linked to the dedication of the Cathedral to the Virgin Mary.
The intention to express grandeur was also evident in the colossal pilasters , which interacted with the vault, replaced in 1939 with a beamed ceiling. From 1964 onwards, two rectangular openings connected the portico with each tower. From these openings, it’s possible to reach the baptistery on one side and some service rooms on the other. As early as the external square, we are invited to enter the Temple through the Gate of Paradise , built by Bonanno Pisano , whose ogival arch stands at the centre of the façade between the two towers.

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.

The monumental bronze door, commissioned by William II of Hauteville , consists of a wall of relief images, closed by architectural frames decorated with motifs that differ in form and materials used. The four pilasters that form the jambs have uniform bases and capitals, while their shafts provide continuity to the ornaments that make up the arch, on which mosaic ornaments of elaborate and delicate workmanship extend in an alternating rhythm.

The area of the Sanctuary

Squaring the circle

The side aisles

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

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

Gardens and architecture as a backdrop to the city of Palermo

A tree full of life

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

The chystro: a place between earth and sky

Artistic elements in Peter’s ship

Norman religious architecture with islamic influences in Sicily

The Gualtiero Cathedral

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

The Bible carved in stone

The Cathedral over the centuries

Palermo: the happiest city

The mosaics of the presbytery

Ecclesia munita

Worship services

A remarkable ceiling

A space between the visible and the invisible

The liturgical spaces of the protesis and the diaconicon

The decorated facade

The chapel of san Castrense: an important renaissance work

The senses tell Context 1

Transformations over the centuries

Under the crosses of the Bema

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

The Virgin Hodegetria

The transformations of the hall through the centuries

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

The king’s mark

The beginning of the construction site

The original design

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

A cloister of accentuated stylistic variety

A mixture of styles pervades the floor decorations

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

A Northern population

The towers facing the facade used as bell towers

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

Survey of the royal tombs

The medieval city amidst monasticism and feudal aristocracy

The chapel of St. Benedict

The balance between architecture and light

A new Cathedral

Cefalù: settlement evidence through time

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

A chapel by an unknown designer based on repeated symmetries

Beyond the harmony of proportions

The southern portico

Characteristics of religious architecture in the romanesque period

A palimpsest of history

Interior decorations

The dialogue between the architectures of the monumental complex

The longest aisle

The chorus: beating heart of the cathedral

A controversial interpretation

The cemetery of kings

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

The cultural substrate through time

The Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene

From the Mosque to the Cathedral

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

The towers and the western facade

The lost chapel

The rediscovered chapel

A polysemy of high-level artistic forms and content

The Great Restoration

The stone bible

The Kings’ Cathedrals

The Great Presbytery: a unique space for the cathedral

Roger II’s strategic design

The Chapel of the Kings

Porphyry sarcophagi: royalty and power

The mosaics of the apses

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

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

Two initially similar towers, varied over time

The construction of Monreale Cathedral: between myth and history

Layers of different cultures decorate the external apses

Roger II of hauteville: a sovereign protected by God

Mosaic decoration