2015 saw the designation of the Arab-Norman Palermo, the Cathedral Churches in Cefalu, and Monreale as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Here’s the complete list of monuments in the Arab-Norman Circuit, UNESCO World Heritage Site 2015.
Royal Palace – Palazzo Reale
It is possible that both Romans and Phoenicians built fortresses to control the entire area of the city on the hill where the palace stands today. These early buildings are gone. After having constructed a castle for themselves they abandoned it because the Emir wanted to take all his officers and soldiers to Al-Halisah, the coastal region.
Through restoration and transformation, the Normans made the building a magnificent Palace. It was home to the large Aula Regia (also known as Aula Verde), where the king held meetings and hosted banquets. Apartments, toilets, and staff quarters were situated in separate wings connected by balconies, terraces, and gardens rich with green and water basins that had an Arabian flair.
The palace is the most significant example of western Fatimid Palatial Art from a stylistic perspective. It has the best architectural features and the finest decorations. The palace suffered a decline after Frederick II’s death in 1250. It was abandoned for three centuries until the Spanish viceroys made it their home. They saved the building, but also modified its appearance to their liking. The building still houses at least two exceptional Arab-Norman jewels: the Sala di Ruggero and the Palatine Chapel.
The Sala di Ruggero used to be a bedroom. It has a panoramic view of Palermo’s Bay. Elegant mosaics depicting hunting scenes with stylized plants and figures are beautifully incorporated into the walls. This is a rare example of secular mosaic art from that era, with its roots deep in North Africa and the Persian East.
It was inaugurated in 1130, which is the year of Ruggero II’s coronation, the first king from Sicily. According to an inscription on the dome, it was completed in 13 years. It was then dedicated in 1143. This church, described by Maupassant to be “the finest religious jewel ever imagined by the human mind”, allows us to experience the fusion between contrasting cultures and styles, proving that Sicily has always been a meeting place for various ethnic groups, including Arabs, Byzantine, and Northern Europeans.