The east exterior of Palermo’s cathedral retains the original Norman character: three apses, cross-over round arches, and curved parapets. The south side, overlooking the square, is memorable for its 1453 Gothic-Catalan portico through which you’ll enter. One of its columns, with an early Arabic inscription, comes from a mosque.

The triangular pediment contains a carving, God the Father on His Throne, and above the doorway, a 13th-century mosaic of the Virgin Mary on a gold background. The bell-tower dates to the 12th century but was rebuilt in 1840. The Loggia dell’Incoronata to the left of the west front, where kings appeared following their coronation, was also built in the 12th century but altered in the 15th.

You enter into the right aisle, where the first two chapels contain the monumental tombs of the Norman-Hohenstaufen dynasty. The four sarcophagi are in purple Egyptian porphyry, previously permitted only for the tombs of Roman and Byzantine emperors.

At the left front is that of Frederick II, supported by four lions; the tympanum shows the Norman crown, and on the top are decorative panels of the Virgin Mary and Christ between symbols of the Apostles. You’ll see copies of this in tombs of Sicilian nobility elsewhere on the island.

In a figural sarcophagus in the wall on the right is the tomb of Frederick’s first wife, Constance of Aragon, who died in 1222. The sarcophagus was opened in 1781, and inside, grave objects were found that you can see in the cathedral treasury. The most outstanding of these is the almost priceless crown of Constance of Aragon, richly decorated with strings of pearls and precious stones. It is probably the same one with which Frederick II was crowned emperor by Pope Honorius III in 1220-he would have placed it in Constance’s grave.


Piazza della Cattedrale, Palermo