History of Palermo Cathedral
In 1184, during Sicily's Norman period, Archbishop of Palermo Gualtiero Offamiglio founded the cathedral on the site of a Muslim mosque, which had itself been built over an early Christian basilica.
The archbishop's main aim was to surpass the glory of the magnificent cathedral of nearby Monreale, and the Palermo Duomo became an architectural battleground for "The Battle of the Two Cathedrals." For most visitors, Monreale Duomo remains the winner, but Palermo's cathedral is still well worth a visit.
Many additions were made to the original Norman structure over the years. The exterior was "Gothicized" in the 13th and 14th centuries, and the Spaniards made their mark in the 15th century.
But if anyone could be called the culprit for the cathedral's playground of styles, it is the Neapolitan architect Ferdinando Fuga, who went with the mood of his day and in 1771 and 1809 gave both the exterior and the interior of the Duomo a sweeping Neoclassical style.
The only section that the restorers didn't touch were the apses, which still retain their impressive Geometric decoration.
What to See at Palermo Cathedral
As is to be expected given its history, the most prominent characteristic of the Duomo is its many architectural styles. The exterior shows the development of the Gothic style from the 13th to 14th centuries.
The south porch (1453) is a masterpiece of the Catalan style, and at the apse end, sturdy Norman work can be seen through a decorative Islamic-inspired overlay.
The facade is closed between two soaring towers with double lancet windows. The middle portal, dating from the 15th century, is enhanced by a double lancet with the Aragonese coat-of-arms.
The four impressive campaniles (bell towers) date from the 14th century, the south and north porches from the 15th and 16th centuries, and the dome from the 18th-century.
Inside, the Duomo is a royal pantheon, sheltering many tombs of Sicily's kings. The first chapel on the right contains six of the most impressive tombs, including that of Roger II, the first king of Sicily (d. 1154). He was crowned in the Duomo in 1130.
Squeezed into an enclosure by the south porch are the remains of Roger's daughter Constance (d. 1198) and her husband, Henry VI (d. 1197). Henry VI was emperor of Germany and the son of Frederick Barbarossa. Also buried here is their son, Frederick II (d. 1250), also emperor of Germany and king of Sicily, and his wife, Constance of Aragón (d. 1222). The last royal burial here, of Peter II, king of Sicily, was in 1342.
Accessed from the south transept, the Treasury (Tesoro) is a repository of rich vestments, silverware, chalices, holy vessels, altar cloths, and ivory engravings of Sicilian art of the 17th century.
A highlight of the Treasury's collection is the 12th-century cap-like crown of Constance of Aragon, which was removed from her head when her tomb was opened in the 18th century. Other precious objects removed from the royal tombs are also on display here.
Quick Facts on Palermo Cathedral
|Names:||Duomo di Palermo · Palermo Cathedral|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||38.114507° N, 13.356156° E|
|Address:||Piazza di Cattedrale, Corso Vittorio Emanuele|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Palermo Cathedral|
Map of Palermo Cathedral
Below is a location map and aerial view of Palermo Cathedral. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.