The poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is quoted as saying, "To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all." It took me almost a dozen visits to Italy to finally see Sicily, and I'm actually glad I waited. Goethe may have believed Sicily was "the clue to everything," but I needed the rest of Italy under my belt to appreciate Sicily. (And by "under my belt," I am referring to what I've seen and learned in all my travels to Italy - not the food and wine I've consumed.)
The history in Sicily is nearly mind-boggling: There is archaeological evidence of human activity on the island as far back as 12,000 B.C. Everyone from the Phoenicians to the Greeks to the Romans to the Vandals, Ostrogoths, Normans, Bourbons and others have left their fingerprints on the island that sits in the Mediterranean to the west of the Italian mainland's boot tip. Sicily became part of Italy in 1860, when Italy was unified.
Palermo is Sicily's biggest city. Just outside it is a town called Monreale that is home to one of the most stunning cathedrals in all of Italy. The Monreale cathedral is also an Italian national monument. The cathedral was started in the 12th century by William II after the Norman conquest and is considered a great example of Norman architecture. But Norman architecture doesn't hold a candle to the cathedral's interior, almost all of which is covered by glass mosaics on a background of gold. The beauty of the mosaics mixed with the gold stole my breath as I walked into the cathedral.
Mosaic figures of Christ, St. Peter and St. Paul, along with depictions of Old Testament stories, captured not only my attention but my imagination. The work, the time, the talent, the patience needed to complete these masterpieces are unfathomable to me. The gold glistens. The colorful mosaics sparkle.
Once I could pull myself away from inspecting up close the tiny pieces of glass that are pieced together to form pictures, I was able to walk to the roof terraces over the cloisters. From there, the view is over the fertile valley all the way to the Mediterranean. So much manmade beauty inside; so much natural beauty outside. The Monreale Cathedral sums up Italy for me. -post by JG
For information about visiting the cathedral, including hours, see http://www.cattedralemonreale.it