Thursday, October 27, 2016

Day 3 continued: Palermo cathedral

My first visit to the cathedral was actually on the second day of my trip, when I decided to turn a different way at the Quattro Canti crossroads for a pre-dinner stroll and unexpectedly stumbled upon the cathedral at dusk. It dates back to Norman times, with substantial additions and alterations over the ages, and was quite a treat to behold in the soft evening light.

With a loud bang which made me jump, they set off a flare in the cathedral grounds as night set in. I was somewhat alarmed on day one, when I left my hostel to a chorus of what sounded like gunfire. But it turned out they have an inordinate love for fireworks in Siciliy - I often heard them going off in broad daylight, and nobody blinked an eye. Must be a way to tell the locals from the tourists, like the midday cannon in Nice.

Because of my early start to see the Palatine Chapel, it was still only mid-morning by the time I left the Norman Palace and headed to the cathedral on day three of my trip. Entrance to the cathedral is free (and it was consequently flooded with cruise ship groups by the time I departed), but to see something beyond the rather plain interior and flee to the bits of the cathedral the guided tours might not visit, you can pay for the deluxe experience. This involves seeing the royal Norman tombs (not many and not superlatively interesting), a small treasury/museum type bit, the crypt, which is Romanesque and atmospheric and full of tombs dating from the Roman, Byzantine and Norman eras, and going up on to the roof. I think the 6 euro fee for all that is certainly worth it, but if you're pushed for time and not keen on old tombs, definitely just go up on the roof.

The cathedral entrance

Pretty, but not quite up to Palatine chapel standards of interior decoration

The crown of Constance of Sicily (1179-1222), found in her tomb in 1491, or in the 18th century, depending on what source you read. She was an Aragonese infanta, then Queen of Hungary, before becoming , as the wife of Frederick II, Queen of Germany and Sicily and Holy Roman Empress. She had to flee Hungary after the death of her husband and married King Freddy when she was 30 and he was only 14. Quite the life!
Tombs in the crypt. Many looked like older Roman tombs had been re-purposed for Christian burials.

Silver-ceilinged chapel
Tomb of Queen Constance, another repurposed Roman one

Detail of Constance's tomb

Tomb of Roger II, first Norman King of Sicily
Detail of Roger's tomb

A meridian line runs North-South through the cathedral. Each end marks the position of the sun at the summer and winter solstices, as it shines from a pinhole camera at 12 noon. The signs of the zodiac in between show the position of the sun at different times of the year. I meant to get a better photo of this, but I went up on the roof and when I came back the place was stuffed with tourists
Behold the milling tour groups


  1. Pesky tourists, eh, Gwan? ;)

    1. Not tourists, tour groups of like 50 people (times several groups) blocking everything you want to see for ten minutes at a time.

  2. About the meridian line:


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