Saturday, May 14, 2011

Palermo in Pieces

The Cathedral in Monreale is the one that we see over and over again, pictured in travel guides tauting its grand mosaics, and they are grand indeed, but Palermo has several gems that shouldn't be overlooked, one of which is so intimate you need neither binoculars nor a telephoto lens in order to enjoy it.

The small church in the piazza just behind Piazza Bellini and it's massive churches is where you will find La Martorana. Set next door to the equally as diminutive San Cataldo, the small church with three red domes that is architecturally Arabic in style, this could be a building that one might easily miss, unless it was brought to your attention.

Thankfully it was brought to mine and was a must see on this visit to Palermo.

The church probably wouldn't even hold one hundred people unless they were tourists crammed in, like those who came in during my visit. Persistence may not be a virtue, but it is a good characteristic for one who hopes to photograph such beauty without multiple heads in the lower portion of the camera frame. The back half of the chapel had plastic covering the open windows and I do hope the entrance fee will be used to repair the glass.

Cappella Pallantina was another beautiful example of the mastery of Byzantine mosaic art in Palermo. It looks deceptively simple to find on the city map, but in fact is hiding within the Norman castle, which was in itself not very interesting with little of it available to tour. Both reside on a hill above the park and cannot be accessed anywhere near the Porta Nuova, but only as you go around the perimeter of the hill to your left, where you will find a line of tourists and the biglietteria.

Go ahead, fork over the 9 euro, as the chapel is well worth the price. You can take all the time you like; you will not be rushed through. As you approach the chapel you'll be amazed at the painterly quality of the mosaics on the outer walls and may even think they are frescoes.
Then you come to the double doors of the chapel, with bas reliefs that are reminiscent of the Gates of Paradise by Berninni on the baptistry of Santa Maria Dei Fiori in Florence.

As spectacular as these artworks are, they do not prepare you for the splendor that awaits you inside; truly a feast for the eyes and the soul.

The dome itself is not excessively large, but size really doesn't matter with these magnificent mosaics. Christ is depicted at both ends of the chapel with Mary and saints depicted below him at the alter. At the back of the chapel Christ is flanked by Saints Peter and Paul. No more commentary from me; the following photos should speak for themselves.

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