Referred as the Palace Church or Palace Chapel, it is located next to the Norman Palace which is a tourist destination in it's own right. It was constructed in the early part of the 12th Century and is another case of Byzantine architecture.
You arrive at the bottom of a hill, where the ticket kiosk is located, and as you walk up the ramp to the buildings at the top you will notice the thorn trees on your left. It's been said that these were planted here to discourage monkeys from climbing up to the churches and wreaking havoc. I'm not sure I really believe that but the trees are really something to see and a very real reminder that we are very close to Africa here!
As we got to the upper courtyard we could see the palace to our left but in front of us was this very plain facade. You would never, ever, guess what was behind these walls.
In fact, the only indication that this has anything to do with a church at all is the metal cross on the outside of the part of the building where the entry door is located.
Everything we had been told about this chapel before arriving was how ornate it was and how, like Monreale Cathedral, it was filled with gold and over the top ornate details. But as you enter the front doorway the only thing that is ornate is the wall sconces!
High Italian arches give the stairway an open, airy feel to the journey up to the top of the staircase. But we were all still very puzzled about the rather austere architecture style.
At the entry way on the chapel level you will see the stairs continuing up to the administration offices.In front of you will be a gate. This is how they control the queue so it doesn't get too crowded inside the chapel. This is where little details begin to emerge.
Above your head, while you are waiting, you can see the beautiful arched corridors of the central courtyard.Once they let you through the gate your waiting isn't over. You still have another queue to wait through so it's great that you have such beauty to enjoy while waiting. We ended up waiting about 30 minutes in all.
The most interesting touch, and a reminder that this area has seen many cultures in it's history, was the Hohenstaufen eagle coat and arms!As you get to the end of your wait you will start to see the elegance that is apparent in all of the churches and chapels of this area. The delicate ironwork of this gate is very elegant and charming.
From the tawny colored arches to brick arches, this is where you finally see what you had expected from the beginning. The beautiful mosaics, which is what has made this chapel world famous, begin here.
This is the entrance wall to the Chapel and, if you look closely, you can see that it undulates slightly. A reminder that this architecture is really old and has withstood lots of pressures.
But the outside mosaics can not begin to prepare you for what awaits inside. Just inside the entryway is this amazing altar. The level of intricate tiling will just sweep you away.
The most surprising part of the chapel was the ceiling. Made up of carved wood with painted details, it is definitely unexpected. Unfortunately I noticed that many were so caught up by the walls and mosaics that they were missing this amazing detail. Always remember, no matter where you visit, to look UP!
Normal scenes are depicted on the walls of the chapel and you will find numerous saints. Fortunately they have added the names to many of these portraits so you know that you are looking at Saint Leo or Saint Peter!
The grandeur of this chapel is immediately apparent. As it was with Monreale Chapel, there are so many details here that a brief visit can not possibly give you enough time to take it all in. For me, the answer is to take as many photos as possible in a short amount of time so I can study these lovely details later on but then put down my camera and enjoy the visit for a few minutes after.
After you enter the chapel you will see, directly on the right, this ceiling. At first glance it seems to be overshadowed by the ornate arches but if you look closely you suddenly notice lots of little heads. Yes, I said heads. It puts such a bizarre twist on this place that you can't help but stare!
The Byzantine touch is everywhere. The chapel glows. Many of the tiles are gold backed or silver which is what picks up the light from the few arched windows and the candelabras inside the chapel and bounces it from area to area. It still has a "dark" feel to it but a warm and comforting feel to it as well.
There is a lot to see in this area of Palermo so plan on spending a lot of time exploring. As for today make sure to click on the small photos so you can really see the details in a larger format.
Next week we'll move on with our tour of Sicily and out into the beautiful countryside to the The UNESCO World Heritage Site of The Valley of the Temples. A very different look at Sicilian history! You can see more of my work every day on Instagram and on Facebook. If you stop by make sure to say HI!