Our first full day in Sicily began with a nice conversation with a guy from Switzerland over breakfast, and an encounter with the B&B’s cats. I don’t think the cats were technically allowed in the guest areas, but since when do felines follow rules? The sandy orange cat was very insistent that Jesse pay attention to it.
After paying homage to the cats, we headed out. Thankfully, Palermo is a walkable city. No car ride necessary. Our general itinerary was to walk past the Opera House, stroll through the vegetable market, and then visit the Palatine Chapel.
Tourists were swarming outside the Opera House, but we kept going and soon lost ourselves in the labyrinthine streets of the markets. The sights and smells were fascinating, although the fish stalls were a little too pungent. Motor bikes zipped down even these narrow alleys, so we always had to be on guard and ready to dive out of the way.
We purchased some blood oranges for a healthy mid-morning snack. I’ve heard that they originated in Sicily, and they are certainly popular on the island.
Next we went to the Palazzo dei Normanni, or the Norman Palace. Inside is an amazing treasure: the Cappella Palatina, a chapel decorated in glittering gold mosaics. It was begun by King Roger II in 1132.
Until a few years ago, I had no idea that the Normans had invaded and ruled southern Italy and Sicily. I’d only ever learned about their invasion of England in 1066. But Norman Sicily is Jesse’s area of research, and so I’ve read about old Ruggero II. I kind of felt like I was visiting the house of an old friend.
Seeing the Palatine Chapel helped me appreciate the size of Roger’s ego. The mosaics aren’t just a symbol of religious devotion. He clearly was making a statement about how wealthy and important the Normans were. He was probably trying to ensure his place in heaven, kind of bribing God with such a beautiful chapel.
The Chapel is a beautiful and amazing combination of Norman, Byzantine, and Arab styles. It’s the kind of room where your jaw drops when you enter. I have never seen anything like it. I can’t imagine the thousands of tedious hours the artists spent creating the mosaics.
After a stop for lunch, we ended up at the Palermo Cathedral. The interior was less awe-inspiring than the Palatine Chapel, but they had a good museum.
Afterwards, we got some cannoli and made our way back to the B&B. We sat on the rooftop terrace, relaxed, and enjoyed the sunshine.
There is more to see in Palermo, but I saw enough to appreciate that it is a truly unique city. Where else but Sicily can you walk through a North African style market and visit a Norman palace in the same day?