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The Palazzo dei Normanni, the palace in Palermo, Italy, was the seat of the Kings of Sicily. The construction of the palace was started in the 9th century by the Emir of Palermo and extended in the 12th century by Roger II and other Norman kings. The fortress was rebuilt by the Arabs in the Ninth Century and was known by the Arabic name, Càssaro (which now refers to an area of Palermo). An ancient Punic-Roman stronghold on the site became foundations for the new castle.

The Normans, under Roger II embellished it, rendering the then four towered castle the royal mansion. At the heart of this splendid residence, is the Aula Regia, or Royal Hall, reserved for hearings and banquets.

The palace contains the Cappella Palatina, by far the best example of the so-called Arab-Norman-Byzantine style that prevailed in the 12th-century Sicily. It is a perfect blend of the rich variety of art, the simplicity and the poised style of the Norman Sicilian kings’ court. The wonderful mosaics, the wooden roof, elaborately fretted and painted, and the marble incrustation of the lower part of the walls and the floor are very fine. Since 1946 the palace has housed the Sicilian Regional Assembly.

Roger II had the stunning Cappella Palatina, (the Palace Chapel), a beautiful chapel dedicated to St. Peter, built in the castle on the first floor and is worth seeing despite the sun, and possible queues. Made in the form of a Basilica, it is divided into three naves by granite columns with Corinthian capitals.

The mosaics of Christ the Pantocrator (classically Byzantine) the Evangelists, and images of stories from the New and Old Testaments, on a gold background, are masterly pieces of craftsmanship. With incredible skill, byzantine images and decorations are blended with Arabic designs (such as the classically Arab eight pointed stars placed in the shape of a cross) into the art and design of the building.

The roof, a unique structure with upside-down wooden “stalactites-like” pyramidal structures, suspended from the ceiling, resonates with Islamic images, creating an ecumenical fusion of Catholic, Islamic and Byzantine cultures quite literally in and under one roof.

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