the ceiling
The Palatine Chapel

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

The ceiling of the Palatine Chapel, an emblem of the union of craftsmen from different cultures and ethnic groups, is one of the most important artefacts of medieval art, due to the originality of the decorations and the construction technique used. The compositional matrix of the ceiling, which covers the three naves , is of Islamic origin, while the iconographic repertoire, rich in symbols and allegories, comes from both the Western culture of the chanson de geste  and the figurative themes of Fatimid art.
Direct evidence of this can be seen in some of the architecture in Cairo, Egypt, which is evidence of the continuous trade relations between Sicily, at the centre of Mediterranean trade, and North Africa. Other testimonies find stylistic comparisons in the palaces of the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs and in Syria.
The originality of the Palatine Chapel ceiling decoration can be seen in the Byzantine, Western and Latin motifs, also inspired by Christian models, painted in the same style as the Islamic ones by artists and craftsmen from the Mediterranean who brought their art to Sicily.
A refined and precious piece of work that best demonstrates the blend of cultures present in Sicily during the Norman reign, the ceiling is one of the best-preserved cycles of Islamic wood paintings from the medieval period. The Normans, in contact with Islamic populations, assimilated different customs, new techniques and repertoires which, in architectural buildings, they translated into stylistic choices and refined decorations. This fusion of different cultures produced the most interesting element of the ceiling of the Royal Chapel, consisting of a composition of muqarnas,

Muqarnas and the wooden ceiling
The ceiling of the Palatine Chapel features muqarnas, a type of ornamental decoration typical of Islamic architecture. Also known as the alveoli or stalactite decoration, it was used in vaults, domes, niches and doorways. Made of stucco stone, ceramic or brick, it became more widespread from the 12th century onwards. In Sicily, muqarnas are found in many Norman buildings such as the Palatine Chapel and the Zisa. On the ceiling of the Palatine Chapel, one can see, in particular, that the central aisle is decorated with muqarnas, which form the geometric structural base, starry polygons and small domes, the latter made of thin boards. In the side aisles, long panels of sloping rafters form a coffered ceiling with alternating flat and concave bands. Entirely painted, they have semicircular endings with depictions of half-figures. The recurring theme of the painting cycle, rich in symbols, allegories, plant and floral motifs, geometric designs, kufic characters, auspicious inscriptions, phytomorphic and zoomorphic elements, is that of the pleasures of life and the exploits of the court. Taken from a vast iconographic repertoire, drawing on Islamic and Western motifs, the paintings depict musicians, drinkers, dancers, animals, mythological motifs and also highly realistic scenes of everyday life such as hunting and symposium scenes, jousts, processions, races and fights. The depiction of the sovereign or other rulers and patrons in oriental clothing and poses is also original. The sovereign, in particular, wears the crown, is often seated on the throne or holds a cup of wine in his hand and is accompanied by servants and musicians. All the scenes are embellished with everyday or precious objects: barrels, cups, vases, bowls, cushions, etc. Other themes, foreign to the Islamic world, are inspired by the Byzantine and Christian repertoire: some depictions also allude to the figure of Christ, while others are taken from the Bible. Among the animals depicted, there are birds, birds of prey such as hawks and eagles (often together with their prey), elephants, exotic animals fighting, mythological and fantastic animals such as sphinxes, griffins and harpies. However, the animal that recurs most often is the lion, considered to be royal and a symbol of strength. The most commonly used colours are white, black and red, with green borders and red background frames and white pearls made from the following pigments: lampblack, lapis lazuli, titanium oxide, minium, vermilion, lead white, orpiment, then mixed with egg yolk, acting as a binder. The latest restorations have also revealed the presence of a pure gold treatment using gold leaf, traces of which remain in the geometric decoration.

a decoration typical of Islamic architecture, characterised by alveoli and also present in other Norman buildings such as the later the Cuba and Zisa palaces, loca solatiorum of the king.

Saint Peter’s Chapel in the Royal Palace

The mosaic cycle, an ascending path towards the light

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

The Royal Throne

The senses tell restorations

A building constructed in a short space of time

The Admiral’s dedication

The senses tell the historical context

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

The flooring: shapes, motifs and iconography

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

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

The interior of the church

The senses tell the historical context

Intertwining of knowledge in Norman Palermo

The decorations on the bell tower

The senses tell the historical context

The mosaics of the naves

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

An architectural crescendo

The senses tell the architecture and decorations

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


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

The return of water

The senses tell the interior

The mosaics of the transept and the apses

The senses tell the ceiling

the Baroque exterior

The senses tell the architecture

From earthquake to collapse

The opus sectile floor of the Palatine Chapel

The birth of the Norman kingdom

The senses tell the flooring

From oblivion to the recovery of memory

The senses tell the mosaic cycle

the Baroque interior

The senses tell baroque decoration

The architectural space

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

The Palace of Kings

The senses tell the Zisa over the centuries

The senses tell the external architecture and the original layout

The rediscovered palace

The Genoard Park, the garden of pleasures and wonders


The Cassaro

The architectural appearance and transformations over time

Shapes and colours of the wooden ceiling