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Palermo’s Palazzo dei Normanni

02 Exterior of Palermo Palazzo del Normanni (2)

Palazzo dei Normanni (Palace of the Normans) is the old Royal Palace in Palermo, Sicily.  It was built in the 9th century by the Arab/Islamic rulers for the harems of their emirs.  It was expanded and renovated by the Normans who subsequently conquered Sicily in 1072.  The Norman kings transformed the building into a multi-functional complex that served as an administrative center and a royal residence.  During the period of Norman rule, Sicily thrived and prospered.

The Palazzo sits on the highest spot in Palermo and is the oldest royal residence in Europe.  After the Normans left, Palazzo dei Normanni was not used for several centuries.  But the palace returned to an administrative role in the second half of the sixteenth century, when the Spanish governors chose it as their official residence, carrying out reconstructions to suit their needs.  It has been recently refurbished and today is used as the home of the semi-autonomous parliament of Sicily.

Interior courtyard of Palazzo del Normanni

Interior courtyard of Palazzo del Normanni

The greatest and most famous feature of the palace is its awe-inspiring chapel, Cappella Palatina, which we’ve previously discussed.  The Capella is a superb example of Arab-Norman architectural style that recently won UNESCO World Heritage site recognition.  This amazingly beautiful chapel was constructed by King Roger II and completed in 1140 in time for his coronation.

The Palazzo has a beautiful central courtyard, very photogenic from all levels…. Besides the Cappella, a tour of the Palazzo dei Normanni includes a visit to the royal apartments.  The rooms open to visitation vary from day to day in an unpredictable manner, depending on what’s going on with the government that day (many of them are closed when the government is in session, as it was the day we visited).

Other features include towers, medieval chambers including dungeons, mosaics…even a collection of carriages.

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