Main apse of Monreale Cathedral with Christ Pantocrator

The Cathedral of Monreale on the Royal Hill 

You are here:

>

In the small town of Monreale, only 5 kilometres from Palermo, the Cathedral of Monreale awaits you, 300 metres above sea level on the royal mountain "Monte Reale". It is the largest church in Sicily and one of Palermo's main sights because of its imposing interior and cloister. 

This is what you can expect in this article:

  1. History of the Monreale Cathedral

  2. The entrance gate of Bonanno Pisano

  3. The Byzantine gold-ground mosaics inside 

  4. The cloister

  5. Opening hours, entrance fees & how to get there

Ciao, I am Eugenio.

I'm a host at BnB Dolcevita and I hope you like my article about Monreale Cathedral. It is part of our Palermo travel guide.  More about us!

Host Eugenio

The history of Monreale Cathedral

The Arab-Norman cathedral of Santa Maria Nuova - dedicated to the Virgin Mary - is located just five kilometres from Palermo, in Monreale. In 1174, the Norman King William commissioned the construction of this massive building. He claimed that the Madonna herself appeared in his dream and asked him to build her a temple.

 

Originally, the cathedral was part of a building complex consisting of a royal palace, a Benedictine monastery and the church. Of the complex, the church and the cloister of the monastery have been preserved. 

View of the exterior façade of Monreale Cathedral

View of Monreale Cathedral

Photo: © efesenko – stock.adobe.com

The entrance gate of Bonanno Pisano

Already at the entrance, a detail worth seeing awaits visitors. Here they pass through the gate of the cathedral, which was built between 1185 and 1186 and was the work of Bonanno Pisano, the same Italian sculptor and architect who had laid the foundation stone of the Leaning Tower of Pisa a few years earlier. In addition to scenes from the Bible, Pisano immortalised his signature "Bonannus civis pisanus me fecit" (in German "Bonanno, citizen of Pisa, made me") on the gate. 

The Byzantine gold-ground mosaics inside 

But the cathedral's full beauty unfolds inside the church. Here, Byzantine gold-ground mosaics cover the entire interior walls of the church, right into every corner and over an area of 6,340 m². It thus contains the largest uniform Byzantine mosaic cycle known anywhere.

 

The cycle depicts various stories from the Old and New Testaments. Without exaggerating, however, simply no one can escape the breathtaking sight of the golden mosaics. The figure of Christ as Pantocrator (ruler of the world) is in the apse of the cathedral and dominates the central interior.

 

In addition, Monreale Cathedral houses several historical treasures that give visitors an insight into Palermo's culture and history:

  • the high altar of the Valdiers

  • the sarcophagus of the Norman kings - William I and William II

  • the 20th century organ

  • the Chapel of the Holy Crucifix - the entire cathedral treasure is kept here.

Interior of Monreale Cathedral

The mosaic image of Jesus Christ above the altar dominates the interior.

Photo by Peter Boccia on Unsplash

The cloister

Besides the impressive mosaics inside, the cathedral is famous for its cloister. This is the only remaining part of the former Benedictine monastery. The roofed cloister encloses the square and unroofed cloister courtyard with an area of 47 x 47 metres.  The 26 pointed-arched acades on each side of the cloister are particularly impressive.

 

Each arcade is supported by individually ornamented, gold-backed double columns decorated with mosaics and precious stones. In total, the corridor consists of 228 pairs of double columns and no two are alike. With such artistic diversity, it takes a while to grasp the wonder of this Romanesque architecture. In our opinion, the 4€ entrance fee for the cloister is well spent. 

Cloister of the former Benedictine monastery

In the cloister of the former Benedictine monastery, visitors can admire the unique columns and the inner courtyard. Photo: Jerzy Strzelecki, Monreale4(js), Filter by RM, CC BY-SA 3.0

Fountain at the cloister in Monreale Cathedral

Photo: © cge2010 – stock.adobe.com

View of Palermo from the Royal Mountain

The town of Monreale offers a wide view over Palermo and the Mediterranean Sea. Because of the beautiful view, even the Norman kings used to retreat here. Photo: © banepetkovichekart – stock.adobe.com

Opening Hours, Admission Fees & Directions 

Admission is free

Those who wish to visit the cloister pay an entrance fee of €4

Mon-Sat: 08:30-12:30, 14:30-17:00 (winter until 15:30)

Sun: 08:30-09:30, 15:30-17:00

The hourly bus line 389P takes you from Piazza Indipendenza (at the Norman Palace) to Monreale (journey time: approx. 30 minutes). 

View of Palermo from the roof of the cathedral

Learn more?