Monreale, Palermo and Therein

I mentioned yesterday that I didn’t take a planned hop-on, hop-off bus tour then because the one route that interested me, one that stops at Monreale, didn’t run that day. It ran today. I took it.

Neither the sightseeing company’s signage, nor its literature, nor its website mentioned that the company offers a ticket that includes only that route. It does. Because the Monreale route was the only one I wanted, I bought that ticket and saved some euros. Bonus!

On the Monreale morning route, you hop on at the one stop in Palermo and hop off at the one stop in Monreale. Although, on the way back it made one additional intermediary stop in Palermo. So it technically is a hop-on, hop off tour, but not one that the “hop-on, hop-off” name conjures up.

Important note: Don’t fret. Despite what it calls its tours, the sightseeing company does not require that you hop when getting on or off its buses. Although, I don’t imagine the staff would stop you if that’s your preferred style of perambulation.

Monreale

A view from Monreale
A view from Monreale

Monreale is a hilltop town. Its simple, old, mostly cream- or sand-coloured buildings are quaint. I mean quaint in a positive sense, not in a realtor’s sense of being a synonym for dilapidated.

Because it is on a mountaintop, some points in Monreale offer sweeping views of Palermo down below and the sea beyond. A light haze permeated the air today. As a result, my pictures don’t do the vista justice. (My poor photography skills add to the injustice.)

Today, tourists overran Monreale, but it is a lovely town in its own right. Or maybe that’s why it was crowded. Whatever the case may be, according to tour books, the jewel in Monreale’s crown is its cathedral.

Monreale Cathedral

Inside Monreale Cathedral
Inside Monreale Cathedral

The exterior of the Monreale Cathedral is imposing in a fortress-like way, but unimposing in that it doesn’t overpoweringly dominate its surroundings. I hope that makes sense because I so rarely make any sense. I’d find it rewarding to have done so here.

Two unpretentious towers, one shorter than the other because it wasn’t finished, guard the entrance of the cathedral.

I intended to include a picture of the exterior here, but when I looked through my photos, I found that I neglected to take one. Sorry about that. If you have your heart set on seeing a photo of the the exterior, I’m sure you can find one elsewhere on the internet. Not every traveler is as neglectful as I am.

Mosaics in the Monreale Cathedral
Mosaics in the Monreale Cathedral

The interior of the cathedral is impressive. A giant Jesus mosaic looms down on the space from high above the altar.

A series of mosaics depicting the Genesis story line the walls above the high pillars that separate the central nave from the side aisles.

On the floor of the transepts on either side of the altar, a few tombs contain the remains of some local former mucky-mucks.

That is to say, I assume they are former mucky-mucks. My understanding of the term is that one has to be alive to be a mucky-muck. There are probably laws in Italy against entombing living people. Then again, people occasionally break Italian laws. So, who knows? But, even if they were entombed alive, they’re probably dead by now.

And More at the Monreale Cathedral

Inside the Baroque chapel
Inside the Baroque chapel

I bought a combination ticket that granted me admission to a museum and small chapel within the cathedral, the roof above it, and the cloisters and cloister garden beside it.

The chapel is amazing. It is Baroque and dazzling. The colourful three-dimensional decorations, including the spiraling, alabaster-colour, small columns really pop. Of course, I mean “pop” rhetorically. They are inanimate and silent. But I hope you get my gist because I lack the literary skills necessary to describe it any better. I took a couple of pictures in the chapel, but I fear they grossly understate reality.

Also inside the Baroque chapel
Also inside the Baroque chapel

The museum contains a number of unmemorable religious artifacts spread out over a few floors. Them being unmemorable was probably due to a combination of me having seen too many Christian artifacts in my travels, not being religious and, particularly not being Christian, and not having a very good memory. Likely mostly the latter. Which is a long way of saying that this is all I have to say about the museum.

The rooftop provides spectacular views, but only marginally better than the vistas available from some other points in town. Being a mountaintop town, the church doesn’t add a lot more height relative to the ambient height of the town. That having been said, a walkway on the way to the roof provides a splendid view of the cloisters and cloister garden below.

A view of the Monreale chapel and cloister gardens from above
A view of the Monreale chapel and cloister gardens from above

Speaking of the cloisters and cloister garden, they are calming and charming. The cloisters form a colonnaded walkway around the square garden. The garden contains grass, bushes, and trees, with perpendicular paths intersecting at a walkway roundabout encircling a tree and trimmed bushes. The effect is very peaceful.

A view from the roof of the Monreale Cathedral
A view from the roof of the Monreale Cathedral

Back in Palermo

Norman Palace

Palermo boasts a large Norman Palace. I don’t know who this Norman guy was, but he must have been a bigwig if he had his own large palace. (I believe I mentioned previously in this journal that you’d be wrong if you labeled that a “dad joke.” I’m childless. Therefore, I can’t make dad jokes.)

But, never mind that. Yes, I know it’s a Norman palace not because of a guy named Norman, but because one or more of the Normans occupied it at one time. Although, the Normans didn’t build the place. It was originally a palace for Arab emirs. They had it built in the ninth century. But, even that was not the start of it. The Arabs built their palace on the foundations of a Carthaginian building dating from the fifth century.

The Normans adapted the Arab palace to make it their own when they came to Palermo in the 11th century.

The royal garden
The royal garden

Today, the regional government uses the building. As a result, they close the royal apartments and a few other areas of the palace on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays to accommodate government functions. Today is Thursday, because of course it is.

On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, the royal garden and the Palatine Chapel in the palace are open to the public and entry is at a lower price than than the full package on the other days. The guidebook I’m using says the Palatine Chapel is, by far, the star of the show, so I guess I didn’t lose out on too much. I’ll probably never know. But I do feel my Fear Of Missing Out kicking in a bit.

Royal Garden

The Royal Garden is smaller than what I expected to be attached to a palace. I guess Norman or, rather, the Normans weren’t such big shots after all.

Weird tree trunk
Weird tree trunk

But what the garden lacks in immensity, it makes up for in verdancy. Lush trees, manicured grass, and a few flowering plants fill most of the garden.

A couple of the trees in the garden are weirdly wonderful. One has a trunk comprised of a number of tightly packed sub-trunks. And, before you ask, yes, I do believe that’s precisely the way students of botany describe that sort of tree trunk if they want to intentionally fail their exam because their parents pressured them into taking botany, despite their passionate, lifelong desired to pursue an advanced degree in Eritrean cuisine.

(No, I’m not going to try to tighten up the preceding run-on sentence. I quite enjoy it as it is. And I’m just trying to enjoy myself here, not win any literature prizes. Leave me alone. Although, if you do want to give me a literature prize that includes a large cash award, please talk to my agent. But let me know first so I can try to get an agent.)

A small cafe occupies the space that is not part of the above-mentioned “most of the garden.” The cafe serves to refresh the paying guests and, thereby earn some more euros from them.

I imagine the cafe is especially eager for customers to consume massive quantities of liquids, alcoholic or not, because use of the nearby washroom costs €0.50. I didn’t frequent the cafe, but I’m an old man. Enough said. They got my €0.50.

Palatine Chapel

Mosaics at the Palatine Chapel
Mosaics at the Palatine Chapel

The Palatine Chapel was much more crowded than the Monreale Cathedral today. Although, that was probably a function of it being much smaller. I don’t know if there were more people at the Palantine Chapel. In fact, there were probably fewer.

Like the Monreale Cathedral, the Palatine Chapel sports mosaics on the walls above the columns. Although, here there are also mosaics on the upper portion of the columns. And the Palatine Chapel differs from the Monreale Cathedral in other respects. For one, and most prominent for me, the colours of the mosaics are much more vibrant than the ones in Monreale. The colours here really pop, with the same caveat about “popping” as I mentioned with regard to the chapel at the cathedral.

Inside the Palatine Chapel
Inside the Palatine Chapel

Another difference is that the mosaics are much lower in the Palatine Chapel than in the Monreale Cathedral. They’re still far above the height of an average person’s eyes, which is to say even farther above the height of my eyes, but not nearly as much above as at the Monreale Cathedral. As a result, my old eyes got considerably closer to (but still not anywhere close to right up to) the mosaics at the Palatine Chapel.

In summary, if you’re in Palermo and have time to visit only one, in my opinion, for whatever little that’s worth, choose the Palatine Chapel over the Monreale Cathedral. Although, if you have time, see both.

Palermo Botanical Garden

I ended the sightseeing portion of my day in the Palermo Botanical Garden. I’ve been to a number of botanical gardens in my travels. Palermo’s is not, in my worthless opinion, the best I’ve seen, but it’s also not the least of them.

Blooming water lilies at the botanical gardens
Blooming water lilies at the botanical gardens

The climate in Palermo is such that the garden can grow plants native to a number of parts of the world, without the need for greenhouses. However, there are a few greenhouses for the exceptions.

The garden is largish, but again, not to brag, not the largest I’ve seen.

The botanical garden has a few trees with trunks similar to the one I poorly described in the section above about the royal gardens.

At the botanical gardens
At the botanical gardens

Not a lot of plants were flowering today. I don’t know if that’s because of the time of the year or because most of the plants aren’t of the flowering sort.

Some water lilies were blooming. And some asian citrus trees had both flowers and what looked like full-grown mandarin oranges on them simultaneously. (I said “what looked like” because I recognized both “citrus” and “asian” on the sign by the trees, but, like all of the signs beside all of the plants, there was no English. If it told me in Italian specifically what type of fruit it was, I don’t know.

This is my last day in Palermo for a while, although I’ll be back before I head home. Tomorrow morning I catch a train to Agrigento.

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