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'Iconic Buildings: The Palatine Chapel'

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Palatine Palace Palermo | Magazine Article Content Syndication - Images by Paul Williams
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Iconic Buildings: The Palatine Chapel

One of the great art treasures of Europe can be seen in the Palatine Chapel in Palermo, Sicily. The effect of the dazzling Byzantine style mosaics is overwhelming and is a powerful demonstration of the sophisticated imagery of Byzantine iconography in medieval times. The Palatine Chapel was built as the private chapel of the King of Sicily not only to demonstrate his power and Christian piousness, but more importantly to elevate him to the status of a great Christian ruler and a cultured benefactor of the arts. This King had good reason for this public relations exercise because he was not from the European Noble Aristocracy but was the Norman Knight Roger de Hauteville or Roger II of Sicily and Duke of Apulia and Calabria.

The most famous Norman was William the Conqueror and his iron fisted tyrannical rule of England gave the Normans an image of uncompromising squabbling feudal knights that dealt out summary executions to anyone who stood in their way. The Normans did much to earn this reputation and became the scourge of Europe. In 1132 when Roger de Hauteville became King by the decree of the Pope he wanted to show that a new type of Norman rule was possible.

Under the rule of Roger II, Sicily became a kingdom where Muslims were allowed to worship and co-existed with the Christians and Jews. His father, Roger I, had learnt during his 25 years conquering Sicily, that the only way to subdue the islands majority Arab Muslim population was by tolerance and even handed fair government. Roger I even refused to join his Norman kinsmen on the Crusades and plunder the Middle East so as not to antagonize his Muslim subjects.

The Palatine chapel is a political statement from the 12th century that is still relevant today. It is designed to be appealing to Roman and Orthodox Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. The oldest mosaics are in the transept and date from about 1140. These magnificently crafted mosaics depict the Acts of the Apostles and were made by the finest Byzantine artisans from Constantinople. The multifaceted ceiling, made from now rare Nebrodi pine, is of Arabic design influenced by Iraqi Abbasid art. It has paintings of secular scenes that would probably have been frowned upon by the Fatimid Islamic Muslim artists that painted them. These are probably the first secular images in a church demonstrating Roger II confidence and willingness to break with tradition.

Is the Palatine Chapel a message of peace and tolerance to Rome, Constantinople and Bagdad? We will never know but the fine art of the chapel shows that the so called Dark Ages were not so dark at all and that the Sicilian Normans had became great diplomats and sophisticated politicians.

The Palatine chapel, The Norman Palace, Piazza Indipendenza, Albergheria, Palermo, 90129
Tel: 091/7051111
Opening Times: Mon-Sat 8:30am-noon and 2-5pm; Sun 8:30am-12:30pm
Tickets : €6

 

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