The Church of Santa Matorana was founded in 1143 by the Admiral and Prime Minister of the Norman King Ruggero II. The church is also called “The Admiral’s Santa Maria”, as it is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is the interior of the church that is adorned with stunning, Byzantine mosaics that fascinates. In 1394, the associated Benedictine monastery was founded. The monastery is known for having developed marzipan, of which they still produce “fruits”, which is one of Sicily’s specialties and here is simply called Matorana fruits.
The main attraction in this area is Palermo’s impressive cathedral, which can be seen from Le Terrazze. The church was built in the late 12th century, but has since been rebuilt extensively. The place is Palermo’s oldest sacred square and is also one of Europe’s longest churches, with an impressive size. Before the church was built, there was a mosque on the site, which had previously been a Byzantine church. Parts of the mosque were reused, which can be seen both inside and out, where there are several scriptures from the Koran on the masonry.
Inside the church there is a cool purity, which emerged after changes in 1771-1809. To the right you will find the tomb of Palermo’s patron saint Santa Rosalia. Rosalia was a princess retreating into a cave on the Monte Pellegrino promontory to meditate. At her death she was at first buried in her cave; but when Palermo was hit by a plague in 1624, someone decided to solve the problem by retrieving Rosalia’s earthly remains and taking them to the cathedral. A few days later, the plague had disappeared from the city. She was then given a chapel and her tomb in the cathedral.
In the floor there is a copper line across, adorned with the various zodiac signs. Up in one of the domes there is a small hole through which the sunlight is thrown down on the line. This is created by a scientist who tried to illustrate to the average citizen how the year was divided as one went from the old Italian calendar to the European one.
L’Albergheria or Mandamento Palazzo Reale is the area of the historic center where Le Terrazze is located. It was here that the Phoenicians began the founding of the city and from then on, the area has housed the administrative center of Palermo. In the old days, it was also the city’s rich man’s district and here you will find i.a. Norman Palace, home to the Sicilian Regional Government.
Despite the old stately homes, the neighborhood has been extremely degraded over a long period of time. Only in recent decades has it been rediscovered, houses restored and the neighborhood once again become attractive. Below the area runs the underground, ancient river, Kemonia. In addition, it is here in the neighborhood that one finds Ballarò, which like il Capo is a well-known market area.
Ballarò Market – Palazzo dei Normanni
The neighborhood’s biggest attraction is without a doubt the Norman Palace. It was an Arab emir who founded the great castle. It was later enlarged and made the residence of the Norman king Roger II. From 1250 it decayed for three centuries until the Spanish rulers came into being. They tore down and rebuilt, so i.a. three of the original four towers had to die. Only Torre Pisana remains now.
It is certainly not for the sturdy exterior that the edifice deserves a visit, but in addition to an interesting tour of the government premises, it is the church room Cappella Palatina that attracts most people. The chapel, which dates from the 12th century, is considered one of the most beautiful in the world. The floor is, according to Western tradition, covered with inlaid, expensive marble. The ceiling is carved in wood by Arab artists. Up to a few meters high on the walls, it is also Arabs who have been responsible for the decoration, while it is Byzantine masters who have made the wonderful mosaics in gold, blue and white.
To the Sicilian folk tradition belongs the puppet theater, opera dei pupi. The colorful dolls are approx. 1 m high. With great skill the Norman knights and Arab warriors are guided in their battle for beautiful ladies. Most performances are based on legends about the Franco-Roman emperor Charlemagne and his knights, and the main characters are in addition to Charlemagne the furious Roland.
You can also come across Holger Danske, who was the son of King Godfred and went to work for Charlemagne before returning home to Kronborg. In the past, puppet theater was used to express social criticism. Today it is pure entertainment and should be a great experience, even if you do not know Italian. In the street with Le Terrazze there is a puppet workshop where performances are regularly performed and in the nearby Via dei Benedettini there is a working puppet workshop.