Italy Welcomes its 51st UNESCO World Heritage Site – Palermo!
January 25, 2016
2015 marked the addition of Arab-Norman Palermo, together with the nearby cathedrals of Cefalú and Monreale, as Italy’s 51st UNESCO World Heritage Site. Italy has more UNESCO sites than any other country in the world.
Located on the northern coast of Sicily, Palermo includes a series of nine secular and religious structures dating from the era of the Norman kingdom of Sicily (1130-1194): two palaces, three churches, a cathedral, a bridge, as well as the cathedrals of Cefalú and Monreale. Collectively, they are an example of socio-cultural syncretism (definition: the attempted reconciliation or union of different or opposing principles, practices, or parties, as in philosophy or religion) among Western, Islamic and Byzantine cultures. This phenomenon has over the centuries given rise to new concepts of space, structure and decoration on the island, and is the reason that we describe Sicily as “a sweater woven with multi-colored yarn” and Palermo as “a city of extremes, a mixture of panache and poverty”. Sicily bears witness to the fruitful coexistence of different ethnicities and religions (Muslim, Byzantine, Latin, Jewish, Lombard and French) over the millenia.
The Arab-Norman architecture is iconic and appreciated all over the world: Palermo, Monreale and Cefalù put together the history of Arab expansion in southern Europe, from the Iberian Peninsula to Sicily and Malta.
With this win, Italy now has 51 UNESCO sites. Specifically, in and around Palermo, these include the Chiesa di San Giovanni degli Eremiti; the Chiesa di Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio; the Chiesa di San Cataldo; the Cattedrale di Palermo; the Palazzo della Zisa; the Ponte dell’Ammiraglio; the Complesso Monumentale della Cattedrale di Cefalù; and the Complesso Monumentale della Cattedrale di Monreale.
The final site among Palermo’s UNESCO collection is the Palazzo Reale with its mind-blowing Cappella Palatina.The Palatine Chapel was built under the reign of King Roger II, who helped unite the fragmented peoples of the island to form the Kingdom of Sicily in the 12th century. Not only did King Roger fluently speak Arabic, but his court in Palermo was “a tolerant meeting place where most knowledgeable people without distinction to religion or language would meet; one of them was the Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi, author of Tabula Rogeriana, the most faithful cartographic representation of Europe and Asia produced in the Middle Ages. The [royal] edicts were written in Latin, Greek, Arabic and Jewish, so that they could be understood by whoever received them. The Arab-Norman culture prospered until the second decade of XIII century, when Federico II ordered the exile of Muslims from the island ” READ ON
Perhaps Sicily’s history has lessons from which we could benefit even today.