Monreale is a small town 7 km from Palermo, which is situated on the Caputo Mountain at the height of more than 300 m. The name of the place comes from “Mons Regalis”, which means “the Royal Mountain”. If you go on an excursion to the capital of Sicily you should certainly visit this beautiful town, because one of the main sights of Sicily is situated there. It is the Cathedral of St. Maria Nuova.
The creation of this cathedral is different from the long-term building natural for the Medieval Ages. The Cathedral of St. Maria Nuova was built in the 12th century during a very short period of time (1174-1176). The last king of Normans in Sicily William II ordered to build this cathedral. According to the legend Virgin Mary appeared in front of the king and showed him the place where to build it.
The most beautiful decoration of the Cathedral is its mosaic pictures. The total area of these pictures is more than 6 thousand square meters. Norman, Arabian and Byzantine workmen took part in the creation of the Cathedral. It has not practically been changed since then, only in the 18th century a portico was attached to it. The central part of the Cathedral is the portrayal of Christ, which is created in such a way that if you are standing in any place of the Cathedral, it seems to you that Jesus is looking personally at you.
The Cathedral is open from 9 a.m. till 1 p.m. every day except Sunday. On Sunday it works from 9 a.m. till 12.30 p.m. During the tourist season (from April till October) you may visit it also from 3 p.m. till 7 p.m. If you travel around Sicily independently, you should know that the two best ways to get to Monreale are by coach or by taxi. The taxi costs 1 Euro. The coaches which can take you from Palermo to Monreale depart from the Square of Independence (Piazza Indipendenza).
Not far from Monreale there are two interesting sights which are worth seeing. At the top of Caputo Mountain there is Castellacio or the Great Castle. This fortress was built by the Normans in the 12th century. It is the only building in the vicinity of Palermo which has not been practically changed. It is interesting to see this ancient building, but besides it there is a wonderful view of Palermo and the seacoast from the top of Caputo Mountain. The other interesting thing is the Abbey of monks-benedictions, called San Martino delle Scale. It was built in the 6th century A.D. 300 years later the Abbey was destroyed by the fire, after which it was restored only in the 14th century. Nowadays you may see its corridors and arches as an example of the medieval architecture. Some more reasons to visit it are that there is a nice collection of Medieval Art and that the local choir of monks often organizes concerts there.