Being an unimportant village at the slopes of Monte Caputo for a long time, Monreale's fame started with the Norman King William II “The Good” who chose this place as a hunting resort. And we will be eternally grateful to him for that, because he left us one of the most splendid and superb examples of Norman architecture in the world – the
Duomo di Monreale
The Cathedral of Monreale is a must-see for every Sicily traveller, you can’t leave the island without having visited to this architectural masterwork.
King William was a typical Norman ruler – tolerant, sophisticated and obviously an urbane art lover, who was open to foreign cultures. He employed the very best occidental and oriental craftsmen, who created a masterpiece of a church. The mix of Arab and Norman architecture combined with religious symbolism and North African and Byzantine artistic traditions is absolutely stunning, and the most important tribute of the Normans in Sicily.
So, if you do not have much time leave aside the Cappella Palatina in Palermo and the Cathedral of Cefalù, and concentrate instead on Monreale.
The mighty basilica has three naves and is completely decorated with spectacular colourful mosaic pictures on a gold ground, showing biblical scenes and portrayals of saints, kings and angels, and an enormous picture of the Pantocrator Christ which is covering the half dome of the central apse – all in all about 6,500 sqm of splendour. The Cathedral was once the seat of the Metropolitan Archbishop of Sicily and features one of Europe’s biggest organs.
Right next to the Cathedral you will find the Benedictine cloister which was built at the same time as part of the Cathedral abbey. It is another stony masterpiece of art and architecture and one of the finest Italian cloisters.
Chiostro dei Benedittini di Monreale
This cloister is a gorgeous example of Byzantine art of construction. It features a huge central cloister, Arabic arches at the covered arcades, and 108 pairs of marble columns. Each column is topped by a floral capital, and every other pair is decorated with unique mosaic patterns - no two being alike. A square pillared projection at one angle contains a marble fountain, evidently the work of Muslim sculptors. The quad is an oasis of peace and you will feel like being in the garden of a rich man’s house in Egypt or Damascus of yesteryear. Oh yes, before we forget: after visiting to the cloister, don’t forget to walk behind it to the “Belvedere”, where stunning views over the fertile valley of the Golden Shell towards Palermo are awaiting.
Sirignano Wine Resort
What about a wine tasting at Sirignano Wine Resort, the historic winery of the Marquis de Gregori, founded around 1860 and producing some of Sicily’s best wines.
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Restaurants in Monreale
There are quite a few good restaurants and pizzerias. If you are travelling with children we highly recommend “Pizzeria Toto” - great pizza and they love children, both restaurants are a short walk of three minutes away from the Dome. For a quick Italian lunch or a good caffè go to “la tazzina café” in Via Roma.
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Accommodation in Monreale
There is a lovely variety of accommodations in and around the little town, with friendly B&B's and welcoming hotels, some of them featuring a swimming pool and/or free parking. Hotel Genoardo Park (attention: many groups) offers a frequent shuttle to Palermo city centre. Monreale is not even 10 kilometres away from the historical centre of Palermo, so if you don’t like to stay in a big city we recommend to look for an accommodation here – but be aware that from April to October there will be hordes of visitors every day. In the evening you will have the little town for yourself.
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Events in Monreale
Cantine Aperte - THE summer wine festival of Italy! Takes place every year in August at “Sirignano Wine Resort”. Guided tours and wine tastings with local specialties under the star-spangled sky at the historic winery of the Marchesi de Gregorio.
If you are in the area in September do not miss the festival Nel Segno di Guglielmo a Monreale, held in honour of King William II “The Good".
In October another festival is celebrated at the winery of Sirignano - the grape harvest. Tastings of the wines DOC Alcamo and DOC Monreale.
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How to get to Monreale
Not recommended! The parking places are literally full at all times. If you are staying in Palermo and want to give it a try, just follow the “Corso Calatafimi” west – going can be slow!
Frequent buses are departing from Palermo, Piazza dell’Independenza. AST will bring you within 40 minutes from Palermo to Monreale.
Nearest airport is “Borsellino e Falcone” in Palermo.