The Duomo of Monreale is probably the most breathtakingly beautiful church on the island of Sicily. It was built the same time as the Duomo in Palermo. Construction of the two churches was a contest between two men. The church in Palermo is more beautiful on the outside, but the church in Monreale is more beautiful on the inside.
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Monreale is a historic hill-town just outside Palermo. It's a picturesque place most famous for the fine mosaics in the town's great Norman cathedral.
The cathedral and cloisters at Monreale are frequently cited as the island's greatest Norman buildings. They date to the twelfth century, when the Norman ruler William II, known as William the Good, founded a Benedictine monastery here; this Duomo was its abbey. In competition with the great cathedral being built down down the road in Palermo, Monreale's cathedral was finished rapidly and extravagantly; William wanted this to be an important royal church where he and his successors would be buried, though these plans didn't last beyond his own burial.
The upper part of the cathedral's interior is completely covered in gleaming gold mosaics; more than 6,000 square metres of mosaic. They were almost certainly created by Byzantine craftsmen, and the combination of Norman, Byzantine and Islamic art and architecture here is a spectacular demonstration of the influences which created Sicily's most glorious era. In the apse, above the altar, the greatest image is of Christ Pantocrator, draped in a blue robe, his hand raised in blessing. Below him and around the walls are depictions of saints. The central nave is lined with pictures from the Old Testament. In the side naves are scenes from the life of Christ.
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