The Chiesa della Martorana in Palermo dates from 1143 and is famed for its spectacular mosaics. Its official name is Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio but it is better known as La Martorana.
History of La Martorana
The church was founded in 1143 by George of Antioch, the admiral of the Norman King Roger. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it became known as Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio, "St. Mary of the Admiral." The church's more common name comes from Eloisa Martorana, who founded a nearby Benedictine convent in 1194.
The church has seen its share of history over the years: it was in La Martorana that Sicily's noblemen convened to offer the crown to Peter of Aragon. The facade and interior were altered considerably in 1588, during the baroque period, but thankfully the glorious mosaics survive intact and on full display.
What to See at La Martorana
The graceful Norman bell tower is original from the 12th century. The facade, on the other hand, is a baroque renovation of the original Norman front. Entrance is through a beautiful portico with a trio of ancient columns and double arch openings.
Glittering Norman-Byzantine mosaics from c.1150 cover the interior, including on and around the columns that hold up the principal cupola. The mosaics were overseen by George of Antioch himself, who was of Greek descent and loved the Byzantine mosaics of his homeland. Scholars think the craftsmen who designed these mosaics also did the mosaic work in the Cappella Palatina.
Even after 850 years, the colors remain vibrant: the golden background is pierced with streaks of spring green, ivory, azure blue, and red. High along the western wall is some of the oldest and best-preserved mosaic artwork of the Norman period. Just inside the entrance is an interesting mosaic of King Roger II being crowned by Christ. Roger is dressed in a jeweled Byzantine stole, reflecting the Norman court's penchant for all things Byzantine. Archangels along the ceiling wear the same stole.
Another mosaic panel shows a kneeling George of Antioch, founder of the church, dedicating La Martorana to the Virgin. Dominating the dome is a mosaic of a gentle-looking Christ, seated on a throne and surrounded by angels. The Madonna and the Apostles are shown off to the sides.
During your visit to La Martorana, obtain a key from the custodian sitting at a tiny table to your right as you enter the chapel - this allows entry into the little Chiesa di San Cataldo next door.
Quick Facts on La Martorana
|Dedication:||Virgin Mary (of the Admiral)|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||38.114800° N, 13.362800° E|
|Address:||Piazza Bellini 3|
|Hours:||Mon-Sat 9:15am-1pm and 3:30-7pm, Sun 8:30am-1pm|
|Lodging:||View hotels near La Martorana|
Map of La Martorana, Palermo
Below is a location map and aerial view of La Martorana. 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.