The traveller Ibn Gubayr admired the Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio and described it as “one of the most beautiful constructions you will ever see”. Over the centuries, the church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio has changed its appearance: numerous reconstructions have transformed the ancient Byzantine-style medieval building. Today, in fact, you can admire completely different styles and decorations: from the splendour of Byzantine mosaics, to 18th century frescoes, to Arab stylistic features. Despite the ostentatious Baroque façade on the north side of the church, the Syrian-style Byzantine Orthodox dome stands in the centre of the church, on a high octagonal drum, with cylindrical corner niches embellished with concentric rings.
The Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio bell tower chimes to announce the upcoming celebration. The melodious sound awakens the souls of those strolling briskly in Piazza Bellini and draws the people towards the Martorana. The bell tower is one of the best preserved elements of the church, and is attributable to craftsmen from the East. It is characterised by a square layout and can be subdivided into four levels with complex and meticulous bi-chrome marquetry decoration in a variety of forms: four-leaf clovers, interlacing, circles, rhombuses; mouldings with geometric decorations in two horizontal friezes and on the ashlars of the arches of the turrets and in the mullioned windows on the fourth floor; six-pointed star motifs in the mullioned window frames on the third floor and eight-pointed motifs in the corners of the second level.
Touching the bell tower means touching smooth and rough surfaces. The decorations, in fact, determine an alternation that makes the construction impressive and dynamic. The shapes engraved on the bell tower are varied: clovers, interlaces, circles, rhombuses and even star motifs, the latter being typical of the Islamic style. The durability of the stone can also be seen in other decorative elements: in the bell tower there are capitals, made by different craftsmen but all ascribable to the Middle Ages: The small columns, especially in the upper parts, give a contrasting effect to the volume.