Church of La Martorana

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Date of travel

September, 2017

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“Monreale Cathedral”:
with its marvellous gold mosaics is on every tourist itinerary to Sicily. What many people don’t realise is that there is another, smaller church in Palermo which has equally as good mosaics.

The Church of la Martorana (sometimes referred to as Santa Maria dell’ Ammiraglio), was built as a Greek Orthodox church in the early C12th. It is one of the finest surviving medieval buildings in the city with the inside covered with mosaics. In the C15th the church passed to an order of Benedictine Nuns who were responsible for adding the C16th Baroque frontage and removed many of the mosaics on the ceilings at the back of the church, replacing them with frescoes. The church passed back to the Greek Orthodox community in 1935.

The splendid C12th bell tower looks stunted after the top was destroyed by an earthquake in 1726 and was never rebuilt.

The inside of the church is stunning with the C12th mosaics that have survived on the arches and parts of the ceiling, especially the side aisles, glowing gold in the light. The work is of the highest quality and was probably done by craftsmen working on the Cappella Palatina. The inside of the dome has a mosaic of Christ Pantocrator surrounded by archangels.

At the back of the south aisle is a large C12th Mosaic showing Roger II being appointed King by God, reflecting the Orthodox tradition.

The chancel area with the high altar is pure Baroque and feels like a different church. The walls covered with white sculpted plaster., and the tabernacle is resplendent with deep blue lapis luzuli inlay.

There is a €3 entry fee which also includes entry to the tiny C12th St Cataldo Church next door with its three red domes. Unfortunately this was closed for lunch.


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