The Cathedral of Palermo is the main place of worship in the city and as one of the most important sites in Arab-Norman Sicily, and it has been part of the Unesco heritage since 2015.
This Christian church is dedicated to the Holy Virgin Mary of the Assumption and is located near the historic center, right next to the Phoenician walls.
It was built in one of the oldest places in the city. Precisely in its vicinity are the remains of the ancient Punic settlement.
During the Roman era, the first Christians took refuge in the network of underground caves, the catacombs, to celebrate the cult of the dead and escape persecution. The first church dates back to this period and stands right on the spot where the first local martyrs were executed.
In 535 A.D. Palermo came under Byzantine domination, during which all the places of worship from previous eras were demolished. New places were built in the Byzantine aesthetic canons. In 604 A.D., the sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin Mary of the Assumption was erected on the remains of the previous Roman basilica (of which the crypt still remains).
In 831 A.D. is the time of Saracen domination. During this time, more than 300 mosques were built and the church was converted to Muslim worship: it was renamed the ‘Great Gami Mosque’.
The Norman era
When Arab rule ended in 1072 AD, Norman rule began.
The year 1072 saw the decline of Arab domination over the city of Palermo to make way for domination by the Normans. Power returned to the Christians, who obviously decided to rebuild the new cathedral exactly where the Gami Mosque had stood. Burial spaces for imperial tombs were included in this project. Among them, were Henry IV and Constance of Hauteville (parents of Frederick II).
Its size and the elegance of its decoration include a façade enriched by a large dome and four towers from the Norman era.
A large square is located right in front of the main façade at the behest of Archbishop Simone of Bologna, during the 15th century. At its exact centre stands the marble statue of St Rosalie, the city’s patron saint. The large arches connecting the mullioned towers with the Archbishop’s Palace undoubtedly have a Gothic appearance. The all-wood entrance door, on the other hand, was made by Antonio Gambare in 1426 with Miranda. Everything inside was modified over the centuries until around 1800.
There are three naves, divided by a series of columns housing statues of saints in neoclassical style.
The right aisle is the one housing the royal tombs, strangely simple but elegant at the same time.
The chapel dedicated to Saint Rosalie also protects the remains of the patron saint inside. From here one reaches where the Treasury is still kept, containing valuable sacred furnishings used for religious services for a good 400 years.
The left aisle is the marble one representing the Chapel of the Most Holy, where the Madonna and Child by Francesco Laurana is the most important sculpture.
Lastly, there is the central nave containing the marble sundial made by the astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi. It still sees the zodiac sign illuminated by the natural light whenever it touches it. Finally, there is the presbytery with an altar behind which a wooden crucifix in Gothic style can be admired.
This leads to the dome, built after the 1693 earthquake, with eight barrel-vaulted windows. At the top there is a lantern, surrounded by 16 small domes with lanterns that serve to illuminate the side chapels.
To be able to visit it all and in depth, we recommend you take about two hours. At a cost of ten euros, you can access all areas besides the worship areas.
Opening hours are Monday to Saturday 7am-7pm, and Sunday 8am-1pm-7pm.