The city of Palermo takes pride in its architectural heritage which has managed to survive over the years despite various foreign invasions. Among the various historic religious buildings which tourists prefer on their sightseeing itineraries is the Palermo’s magnificent cathedral (cattedrale), more properly known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. The cathedral is open daily from 09:00 to 17:30 (crypt) and 09:30 to 17:30 (cathedral).
The church presents a unique combination of various architectural styles ranging from Arab, Norman, Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance to Baroque. One is struck by the church’s size, which for its era made it one of Europe’s largest places of worship. The church is a massive rectangular structure, with two towers at the two front corners constructed in the Norman Arab style. The exterior of the apse is similar to those of Monreale Cathedral and the smaller Basilica of the Magione. In the bas-relief carvings of the wooden door at the archway under the portico can be seen deer, boar and other game once hunted in Sicily but long extinct. There are also greyhounds, lizards and mythological and religious figures
The main entrance of the cathedral is located at the southern end of the nave along Via Bonello opposite the reconstructed towers of the archdiocesan curia on the other side of the street. The two arches over the street once supported a roof. This entrance is used only on special occasions, usually when the archbishop enters the cathedral.
The left-most pillar supporting the Gothic portico bears an inscription from the first sura of the Koran: “God is Allah and Muhammed is His Prophet.” The geometric decorations of the apse exterior are of Islamic design, their symmetry reflecting Muslim spirituality.
The side chapel that is located near the portico entrance of the church is famous for its royal tombs. It is here that King Roger II is buried, along with his daughter, Constance de Hauteville, mother of Emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen, who is also laid to rest here.
The Crypt houses the remains of Archbishop Walter, who in the twelfth century ordered construction of this cathedral, overlaying the earlier church and mosque. Saint Nicodemus, Orthodox bishop of Palermo in 1071, is also buried here.
The Cathedral Treasury (Tesoro) is a small museum containing a collection of finely crafted religious objects. There are illuminated manuscripts here and bejeweled chalices and crucifixes, along with sophisticated gold jewelry adorned with Byzantine enamel-ware, and even a few metal icons.