Monreale is a historic hill-town just outside Palermo. Situated 8 km SW of Palermo, the town enjoys excellent views down the valley of the 'Conca d' Oro 'to the sea. It's a picturesque place most famous for the fine mosaics in the town's great Norman cathedral. Monreale is connected to Palermo by regular public transport and is an easy short excursion from the city centre. Although it only takes a couple of hours to visit and see Monreale from Palermo, there are places to eat and drink classic sicilian cuisine, good views and a pleasant atmosphere, so often visitors choose to extend their stay.
The story of how this splendid cathedral came into being starts when the Arabs took control of Palermo in 831. They transformed the cathedral into a mosque and banished the Bishop of Palermo from town. Not wishing to venture too far from his beloved cathedral, the Bishop settled in a small village in the hills overlooking Palermo, the site of modern-day Monreale. There, he built a modest church to keep the flame of local Christian worship alive.
Every other pair of columns is decorated with unique mosaic patterns (no two are the same) and each is topped by a floral capital. The overall effect is one of not quite perfect symmetry, but absolute perfection!
In 2015, Arab-Norman Palermo and the cathedrals of Monreale and Cefalù were granted status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Spread over a combined 6,235 hectares and including nine monuments - the Royal Palace and Palatine Chapel, the Zisa Palace, Palermo Cathedral, the Palermitan Churches of San Giovanni degli Eremiti, Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio and San Cataldo, the Admiral’s Bridge, and the cathedrals of Monreale and Cefalù - the site provides, in UNESCO's words, "an outstanding example of a socio-cultural syncretism between Western, Islamic, and Byzantine cultures. This interchange gave rise to an architectural and artistic expression based on novel concepts of space, structure, and decoration that spread widely throughout the Mediterranean region.