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Monreale is situated a few kilometres south of Palermo, in north-western Sicily. The town is in a pretty setting of orchards of olives and oranges.
It is Monreale cathedral that attracts the visitors - and rightly so, because it is one of the most impressive cathedrals to be found in Sicily.
Monreale is an attractive hill town on the slopes of Mont Coputo and has great views over the Conca d'Ora valley below and over Palermo and the sea. A leisurely stroll around the town and a visit to the amazing cathedral is definitely recommended. However you will not be alone. It is an easy trip on public transport from Palermo and so lots of visitors come on day trips. If you want a more relaxed atmosphere stay the night as many visitors will have left at the end of the day.
Monreale cathedral is a very fine 12th century Norman monument founded by the Norman King William II, although the exterior, rather plain to look at except for a few decorated sections, gives little clue to the treasures to be discovered inside. The cathedral successfully brings together Norman, Arab and Byzantine art and architecture and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of a group of nine buildings listed as "Arab-Norman Palermo and the cathedral churches of Cefalù and Monreale.
At the interior of the cathedral are three naves each of which has its own group of fabulous mozaics which cover around 10000 square meters in total. Above the altar, in the dome at the head of the church, is a huge mosaic of Christ surrounded by the saints.
The central nave has mosaics depicting scenes from the old testament such as Noah's Arc and the side naves have scenes from the life of Christ and some of his miracles.
Also noteworthy inside the cathedral is an elaborate 12th century Romanesque bronze door, covered with reliefs depicting stories from the Bible. by Bonanno pisano.
It is worth the small payment to visit the treasury where you can get close-ups of the mosaics and can visit the panoramic terrace of the cathedral.
On the south side of the cathedral is the entrance to the cloister of the Benedictine monastery. The cathedral cloisters surround a garden area and are highly ornate, based around arches supported by double stone columns - many of the columns themselves are also decorated in gilded and ornate patterns, and there are numerous intricate carvings to admire in the 'capitals' (the part between the columns and the arches).
There are 228 columns in total and their patterns are inspired by Arab, Burgundian, Provencal and Salerno medieval art.
Monreale is a short distance from Palermo which also has a glorious Arab-Norman cathedral as well as many other wonderful sights. Nearby Bagheria was once a popular home town of many wealthy people of Palermo and is full of wonderful villas.