These two Norman churches stand side by side, separated by a little tropical garden. George of Antioch—Sicilian king Roger II’s Greek admiral—founded Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio in 1141; the church was later renamed Chiesa della Martorana for Eloisa Martorana, who founded a nearby Benedictine convent. The nuns gained the everlasting appreciation of Palermitans when they invented marzipan, and frutta di Martorana—in which marzipan is fashioned into the shape of little fruits—has outlived the order. George of Antioch, for his part, loved Byzantine mosaics and hired the North African craftsmen who’d just completed work on the Cappella Palatina to cover this church’s walls, pillars, and floors with stunning mosaics. Christ crowns Roger II, George appears in a Byzantine robe, and Christ appears again in the dome, circled by angels. The Arab geographer/traveler Ibn Jubayr visited Palermo in 1166 and called the church “the most beautiful monument in the world.” In 1266 Sicilian nobles met here and agreed to offer the crown to Peter of Aragon, ending a bloody uprising against French rule known as the Sicilian Vespers. A baroque redo has rendered the interior a little less transporting than it was then, but it’s still beautiful. Maio of Bari, chancellor to William I, began the tiny Chiesa di San Cataldo next door in 1154; after he died in 1160, the church was left unfinished. The red domes and the lacy crenellation around the tops of the walls are decidedly Moorish, while the stone interior, with three little cupolas over the nave, evoke the Middle Ages.
Chiesa della Martorana/San Cataldo
Piazza Bellini 2
Our Rating Neighborhood Adjacent to Piazza Pretoria Hours La Martorana: Mon–Sat 9am–1pm and 3:30–5pm; Sun 8:30am–1pm. San Cataldo: Tues–Fri 9am–5pm; Sat–Sun 9am–1pm Transportation Bus: 101 or 102 Phone 091/616-1692 Prices San Cataldo: 2€, La Martorana: Free admission
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.