Just a short bus ride (no. 389) away from Piazza Indipendenza is Monreale.
The town owes its fame to its Duomo, one of the most solemn architectural wonders of the medieval world. The whole monumental complex – constituted of the church, the Benedictine monastery and the royal palace - was built around 1172 for the will of the Norman King William II, who married Joan daughter of Henry II of England and sister of Richard the Lionheart and John Lackland. A religious legend tells that the king, while resting under a tree, after a hunt, saw a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary who manifested a desire to build a temple in her honor and pointed at some useful hidden treasures for its achievement. From the beginning the building aroused attention and wonder for the colossal forms and splendor on display. The outside massive and imposing form of the Cathedral is without decoration, it gives no hint of the riches inside; the apses facing east and visible to those arriving from Palermo are exceptions. On the main façade, under the porch of the eighteenth century, is the bronze door by Bonanno Pisano, created in 1186.
In 42 images, with simple language, there are narrated episodes of the New and of Old Testament. To the left side of the Cathedral under the porch by A. Gagini, the bronze double doors by Barisano of Trani (1179) are open to visitors.
The simplicity of its facade does not prepare visitors for the splendor of its interior. Walk through its doors you are met one of the largest mosaic cycles in the world: more than six thousand square meters (68,220 square feet) wall to wall mosaics telling 130 stories taken from the Old and New Testaments, a fusion of Eastern and Western influences.
The plan of the church developed into the so-called Latin cross and is divided into three naves by eighteen granite columns, nine per side; the first column on the right being an exception because it is made of cipolin marble. On the columns, each column differing in height, rest a few Corinthian and composite capitals, among acanthus leaves and cornucopias, glimpsing medallions with the face of Ceres and Proserpine. In the central apse, Pantocrator (i.e. Almighty) Christ and the Virgin with her Child among Angels and Saints emerge. Two mosaic panels dominate the two lateral seats : in the former, the king's seat, ”The Redeemer puts the crown on the head of William", in the latter, the Bishop's seat, "William is in the act of offering the church to the Virgin". Clearly visible is the icon depicting probably the first holy picture of St. Thomas Becket (whose fame spread throughout the Norman world) created shortly after his death. Becket's cousins took refuge in the Sicilian Norman court during the exile of the Saint. (for more information about St. Thomas Becket martyr and friend of Sicily click here)
The apse is towered by the magnificent silver altar of L.Valadier while the right transept houses the two tombs of William I and William II.