First of all, Happy Star Wars Day! Doesn’t seem like a big holiday here and I am not seeing unlimited margaritas and guacamole for Cinquo de Mayo either. Sicilians are really missing out.
Anyway, the force is with us today as we see several outstanding churches, chapels and princely buildings. But first, a walk through the produce market because who doesn’t love to see the produce of other countries?!
Our real first stop is at the Palermo Cathedral. The Cathedral was built in 1185 on top of Byzantine basilica reputed to be built by St. Gregory. Around 800 AD it was turned in to a mosque when the Saracens conquered the area. Since 1185 it has gone through several renovations so it is really a polyglot of styles.
An interesting aspect of the Cathedral is the heliometer of 1690. The device itself is a tiny hole in one of the minor domes which acts as pinhole camera, projecting an image of the sun onto the floor at solar noon. There is a bronze line on the floor, running precisely north to south. The ends of the line mark the positions of the summer and winter solstices and signs of the zodiac show the various other dates throughout the year. This heliometer was used to standardize time and predict when Easter should fall.
Next we head over to the Norman Palace. It is the oldest continually operating governmental building in Europe. Inside, along with the government offices, is the beautiful Palantine Chapel. It is decorated shimmering mosaics depicting stories from the old and new testaments. It is a miniature of the Monreale Cathedral that we will see tomorrow.
Leaving the princely palace we realize it’s lunchtime. We try to pick a place that is not overrun with tourists and settle upon Trattoria Ai Normann. Unfortunately right after we are seated a large German tour groups sits down outside. Thereupon ensues the slowest lunch ever. Two hours of sitting interrupted by two bouts of ten minute eating. We finally force the issue of the check and are told that good food takes time. We had simple dishes that could have been prepared and served in half the time.
We look through two other churches after lunch. One, La Martorana, also has mosaics. It is interesting to see the different yet similar artistic styles.
Tomorrow is our last day before we head home. We hope to see Monreale Cathedral and then fly to Rome for an overnight before completing the rest of our journey.