All That Glitters

By Anastasia Mills Healy

Any Sicilian guide can confirm the predictable reaction of people when they first see the shimmering golden mosaics in the Palatine Chapel in the Palace of the Norman Kings. Widened eyes are often accompanied by a dropped jaw, intake of breath and an exclamation of wonder.

This chapel, which is at the center of the Palazzo Reale in Palermo, shines from floor to ceiling with 12th-century Byzantine mosaics. Elegantly portrayed figures are masterfully crafted and set in a luminous gold backdrop. The brilliance of color married with the superior technique and radiance of these mosaics earn the stunned silence of viewers.

The mosaics illustrate scenes from the Bible and include Adam and Eve, each with a piece of fruit in their mouth and reaching for more. Christ Pantocrator looks down from the center of the cupola, with angels encircling the dome.

The chapel and the palace have fascinating histories, having been built over the centuries by Arabs and Spaniards on the former site of Roman and Punic fortresses. The architecture is a lovely mix of Arabic, Norman and Byzantine styles. Of special note is the Arab muqarnas (honeycomb) painted wooden ceiling. While you’re looking up, take in the details of the 15-foot Paschal candelabrum: See lions with their prey, birds, humans and intricately rendered foliage including acanthus leaves.

Plan to spend at least an hour here to fully experience the majesty of this awe-inspiring chapel.


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