Perched on the slopes of Monte Caputo overlooking the Golden Valley (Conca d’Oro, the medieval village of Monreale earns a spot on the travel map for its magnificent mosaic-filled cathedral. Built by William II in 1184, the cathedral and adjacent cloister are considered among the best examples of Norman architecture in Sicily.
Located just 9 miles (15 kilometers) south of Palermo, Monreale is a popular day trip from the capital city or from the nearby cities of Taormina and Cefalù; many sightseeing and street food tours of Palermo also include a stop in this hilltop village to visit its grand cathedral. Known for its sumptuous mosaic decorations that depict Biblical scenes and cover 68,889 square feet (6,400 square meters) of the interior, Monreal’s cathedral (or duomo) is one of the most important architectural landmarks on the island of Sicily. The adjacent abbey cloister—built around the same time as the church and expanded in the 1300s—is equally striking with its 200-plus intricate double columns decorated in glass mosaic.
Things to know before you go
- Visiting the cathedral in Monreale is a must for art and architecture enthusiasts.
- Walking tours of Palermo and Monreale largely take place outdoors, so wear sunscreen and a hat in summer.
- Modest attire that covers the knees and shoulders is required to enter the Monreale cathedral.
- The church and abbey are wheelchair-accessible.
How to get there
The village of Monreale is a short drive from Palermo, but parking is limited. The best way to visit is via the bus from Palermo’s Piazza Indipendenza or by joining a guided tour that includes transportation.
When to get there
To avoid the worst of the tour bus crowds, plan your visit to the Monreale’s duomo in the early morning or late afternoon.
Highlights of the Duomo and Abbey of Monreale
Part of the UNESCO-listed group of nine Arab-Norman cathedrals in Palermo, Cefalù, and Monreale—the duomo and abbey in the village of Monreale are famous primarily for their vast 12th-century mosaics covering almost the entire interior of the church. These Byzantine works are inspired by stories from the Old and New Testaments, and glow with multi-colored and gold glass tiles. The royal church also contains the tombs of William I and William II of Sicily, Margaret of Navarre (wife of William I), and the princes Roger and Henry.
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- Monreale Cathedral (Duomo di Monreale)
- Capuchin Catacombs (Catacombe dei Cappuccini)
- Zisa Castle (Castello della Zisa)
- Palatine Chapel (Capella Palatina)
- Four Corners (Quattro Canti)
- Palermo Cathedral (Cattedrale di Palermo)
- Capo Market (Mercato di Capo)
- Ballarò Market (Mercato Ballarò)
- Church of the Gesù (Chiesa del Gesù)
- Vucciria Market (La Vucciria)
- Piazza & Fontana Pretoria
- Massimo Opera House (Teatro Massimo)
- Opera Dei Pupi (Rod Marionette Theatre)
- Politeama Garibaldi Theater (Teatro Politeama Garibaldi)