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The Royal Palace in Palermo - The medieval Palace

by Ruggero Longo

Christmas Day 1130 was a great day for Palermo, and is a

memorable one for the history of southern Italy: it was the day of the
coronation of Roger II. The Hauteville family, Normans who arrived in the
south of Italy in the earlier eleventh century, extended their control over
the entire southern part of the peninsula. Islamic Sicily was conquered by
Robert Guiscard and his brother the count Roger, in a remarkable
undertaking that unified the entire south under a single crown. This crown
was placed on the head of Roger II, son of the first count of Sicily, in the
archiepiscopal church of Palermo. The praises heaped on the new king still
echo today in the inscriptions and diplomas composed in Latin, Greek and
Arabic; pages and pages of history were written, exalting his fame.
Alexander of Telese wrote at this time: “After the duke Roger in
accordance with royal ceremonial had proceeded to the archiepiscopal
church and after receiving the sacred anointings assumed the dignity of
sovereignty, it cannot be expressed in writing and indeed it cannot be
imagined how great was his glory and how imposing and marvellous was
the new kingdom for its prestige and for its profusion of riches. All
observers received the impression that it had concentrated into itself all the
magnificence and honours of this world. The entire city was incomparably
glorified and within its boundaries spread rejoicing and splendour.”
In the following chapter, book II chapter V, of the Ystoria Rogerii regis
Sicilie Calabrie atque Apulie, entitled “The splendour of the royal Palace
the equipage of the knightly procession”, the chronicler describes the
Palace in enthusiastic terms: “Also the royal Palace, whose walls inside
were all decorated, shone brilliantly. The floors, covered with
multicoloured carpets, gave a most agreeable impression.”
The description of the ceremonies continues in chapter VI: “For those
invited to the royal banquet a most rich assortment of dishes and drinks
was provided, served in plates and cups of gold and silver. All the servants
were dressed in silk […] Such was the splendour and ostentation inside the
Palace that to everybody’s eyes it appeared something prodigious and
stupefying, to the extent that it aroused genuine dismay in those who had
come from afar to assist at the event. This is because the spectators were
presented with many more things than they had even heard about”.1

The chronicler, so well informed as to be able to describe the saddles
and bridles of the horses, does not however describe the things that were
presented; so it is not easy to imagine what Roger’s Palace looked like on
that festive occasion. Undoubtedly it would have had the appearance of a
fortress, girdled with walls and towers, being called in the earliest sources
of the Guiscard period castra, castle, fortress,2 built by the duke Robert
after his conquest of Palermo in 10ι1, “in a special part of the city”, “a
very high place”, according to the monk Amatus of Montecassino.3 On the
day of the coronation that castrum, already called palatium in the Ystoria
of the monk of Telese, as well as being a fortress must also have been a
luxurious residence. A diploma of 11324 informs us that the king’s Chapel,
founded in the castellum superius, possessed jurisdiction over totum
castellum panormitanum cum universo regali palatio; thus, a distinction
was made between the palace and the castle in which it was located.
So it was a palace, but had a very different appearance from the present
one, which is the result of a great many transformations undergone by the
monumental complex from the sixteenth century until our own times.5
However much still remains of that palace, which in places can clearly be
seen, while in others it is hidden by superimposed layers, in still others it is
concealed or obliterated. So we need in imagination to strip away a few
historical layers from the royal Palace, in order to be able to read its
medieval facies. In this journey backwards through time, in addition to the
faint material traces we have at our disposal the old sources, which taken
together are capable of providing a concrete and tangible impression of the
Norman Palace.
First of all, looking at the Palace, we have to remove in our
imaginations all those later buildings that have been added to the original
ones (Fig. 1). The seventeenth-century east façade, the Parliament
Chamber or Hall of Hercules with its west wall, the monumental staircase
named after Charles III, the Maqueda courtyard with its loggia, the
courtyard of the Fontana, the astronomical observatory built on top of the
Pisan Tower and the modern re-arrangement of the Greek Tower must all
be discarded in favour of the medieval structures, so that what we have is a
complex of walls and towers that better corresponds to the notion of a
fortress-palace. This comprised the north Pisan Tower, the adjacent
Joharia, the Greek Tower to the south-east, the massive polygonal bulk of
the so-called Political Prisons to the south-west, and the Palatine Chapel in
the centre (Fig. 2). Between the Chapel and the Joharia, at the level of the

so-called crypt of the Palatine Chapel and thus above the courtyard of the
Fontana, some rooms wrongly referred to as hypogea and called “Segrete”
may derive from the now vanished rooms which the historian Tommaso
Fazello called Tirimbi.6
To help us imagine this configuration now masked by superimposed
layers, there is a very useful representation of the royal Palace in the well
known map of Palermo that was published by Georg Braun and Franz
Hogenberg in 1581 (Fig. 3), having been prepared between 1569 and
1570.7 This representation does not however show the rooms of the
Tirimbi or Chirimbi which were probably adjacent to the Chapel, towards
the north, in the place where in these very years the west loggia of the
Fontana courtyard was built,8 the loggia being very clearly shown. This is
not the only omission. According to Fazello, there were two other
important elements that were part of the complex until shortly before the
making of the Hogenberg map: a Red Tower, which he says was built for
the count Roger († 1101) and was demolished in 1553,9 and the Aula
Verde, an open space between loggias in the area in front of the Palace,
facing the city, which was also destroyed in the sixteenth century.10
Unfortunately these two elements are not shown either in the ideal
reconstruction of the Norman Palace devised by Francesco Valenti, an
engineer who was Superintendent of antiquities and fine arts in Palermo
and who carried out some important restorations at the Palace between
1921 and 1938. The drawing that illustrates this hypothetical
reconstruction (Fig. 4), made in 1925 by the architect Pietro Loiacono,
does however give a clear and reliable idea of the Palace’s appearance in
the Norman period. With this image in front of our eyes, we can now pay
attention to the words of contemporaries, in order to return in imagination
to the ceremony of the coronation and to recover what has been lost,
beginning with the Aula Verde.
Valuable information is provided by two Arab poets of the time of
Roger II: Abd Rahman of Butera and Ibn Basrun, who in a sort of literary
contest challenge each other with verses devoted to the same subject: the
Norman Palace.11 Abd Rahman writes:
There is no serene life, except in the shade of sweet Sicily,
under a dynasty that surpasses the Caesarean dynasties of the kings.
Behold the royal palace, where joy has taken up its abode;
marvellous dwelling, on which God has bestowed perfect beauty!
Behold the theatre shining on every structure of architecture,

the superb gardens, in which the world has come into flower,
the lions of its fountain, that pour forth waters of Paradise.
Spring has clothed her lands with the splendid garments,
she has crowned their face with many-coloured jewelled clothing,
she has perfumed the breezes, from morning to evening.12

To which Ibn Basrun relies:

Hurrah for the triumphant [palace], shining with enchanting beauty,
with its notably built castle, elegant in form, with high loggias;
with its beasts and it copious waters and its fountains [worthy] of
Behold the orchards, covered by vegetation with most elegant robes,
covering the fragrant soil with silks from Sinai!
[Feel] the breeze that [wafts], and brings you the scent of amber;
[See] the trees laden with exquisite fruits;
Listen to the birds, chattering after their fashion from morn til eve!
Here Roger plans [always] great things, he the king of the Caesars,
among the sweetnesses of a life that may [Heaven] prolong, and the
[erudite] coteries that are his delight.13

No lovelier lines were ever written in praise of the triumphant beauty of

the Norman Palace, and in addition they are full of useful indications for
an ideal reconstruction of Roger’s splendid building. From the outside,
the view of the palace from the city must have offered, as the qualifying
element representative of the sovereign’s bounty, that shining theatre, an
ensemble of loggias opening onto a vast atrium that in various documents
is called Aula Verde, or Pissotus, enriched with luxuriating vegetation and
with a fountain in the centre. The chronicler Hugo Falcandus, narrating
the events in Palermo between 1154 and 1169, mentions that William I
“went down into the room that is attached to the palace and assembled as
many people as the greatness of the space was able to contain”.14 In his
Epistola ad Petrum Panormitanae ecclesie thesaurarium de calamitate
Siciliae the same author, describing the streets of the Norman city, says
that one of them began ab Aula Regia, qui Palatio subest.15
The vanished Aula must therefore have occupied the area in front of the
Palace towards the city, between the towers known as Greca and Pisana
and the Torre Rossa, built by the count Roger, now no more. This latter,
built “in brick” (whence its name, the Red Tower), was first reduced in

height and then completely demolished in 1553 by the viceroy Giovanni
Vega “so that he could have a better view of the city”.16 It must until then
have stood on the front side of the Palace, more or less where there is now
the marble baroque monument to Philip V.17 The royal Aula must have
been surrounded by loggias that linked the towers to each other18 and gave
access to the various rooms and offices of the Palace; moreover it must
have been open towards the city and to have been large enough to
accommodate a multitude of people.19
The Andalusian traveller Ibn Jubayr gave a careful description of it around
the year 1184: “Among other things we noticed a hall in a large courtyard
surrounded by a garden, and flanked by porticoes. The hall occupies the
entire length of this courtyard, so that we were astonished by its extension
and by the height of its look-outs. We learned that this is the place where
the king is accustomed to eat with his entourage. All around are the said
porticoes and the offices where sit the magistrates, the public officials and
the financial agents”.20
The presence of gardens and orchards must be the reason for the name
Sala Viridis (or Pissotus), attested in various later documents21 and thus
referred to in an act of 1340, by which the civic administration of Palermo
requests Peter II of Aragon for help in restoring a portion of the Aula that
was in ruins.22 Fazello, writing in 1558, sorrowfully calls to mind its still
vivid memory,23 informs us of its recent demolition (1549), of the re-use of
its stones to make new fortifications, of the fact that in that area the
citizens sometimes found marble slabs, and that in 1554 the area was
sanded and levelled with a roller.24
To form an idea of the Aula Verde and of its impact on the city in the
Middle Ages, we might look at some of the miniatures in the celebrated
Liber ad Honorem Augusti by Peter of Eboli, composed between 1195 and
1197, which are believed to represent, in imaginative but basically in
figurative terms, the vanished structure. 25 In particular, the miniature
showing the death of William I (Fig. 5) seems to evoke the view of the
Palace from the city, giving prominence to the ensemble of loggias that
formed a sort of diaphragm between the fortress-palace and the city
For a glimpse of the inside of the Norman Palace we need to consult
a frequenter of royal palaces, the court geographer al-Idrisi, who in his
work dedicated to the sovereign leaves a careful description of the entire
Norman city: “The city is divided into two parts: the Qasr and the borgo.

The Qasr is that ancient fortress so well known in every land and every
region. It embraces three wards, of which the central one is filled with
towering buildings and tall and noble hostels, mosques, warehouses, baths
and shops of great merchants […] In this same [Qasr] stands the gâmi
mosque (cathedral) which at one time was a Christian church and has now
returned [to the worship] to which the ancients dedicated it […] In the
most elevated part of this Qasr, the dreaded king Roger has a new citadel,
made with hard mosaic stones and large pieces of dressed stone, artfully
designed, supplied with high towers, well protected with look-outs,
[comfortable] with well built rooms and apartments; notable for the
architectural decoration, for the wonderful and rare calligraphy and for the
elegant images in all styles that are collected there.”27
Unlike Ibn Jubayr, a Muslim pilgrim who saw only the outside of the
Palace, Idrisi provided precise information about what the Palace
contained, and what aroused his admiration: notable architectural
decoration, wonderful calligraphy, elegant images (painted or sculpted); he
also gave structural and technical details: well constructed apartments and
rooms, artfully designed, made with great pieces of cut stone and covered
with mosaics.
Before matching the individual references to the material reality that
still survives, let us take a look at another description, contained in the
Epistola of the Pseudo Hugo Falcandus written around 1190, in which the
image of the royal Palace acquires a certain precision: “This city, situated
on a plain, is on one side battered by frequent assaults of the sea, to repel
the waves of which the Old Palace, which is known as Castello a Mare,
opposes its walls fortified by a great number of towers. The opposite part,
on the other side of the city, is occupied by the New Palace, built in opus
quadratum with marvellous diligence and admirable workmanship,
surrounded on the outside was a great circuit of walls and astonishing on
the inside for the abundance and splendour of the gems and the gold; on
one side there is the Pisan Tower which guards the treasure, on the other
the Greek Tower which overlooks the part of the city known as Kemonia.
The intermediate area is adorned by that part of the palace called Joharia,
which has the greatest quantity of ornaments and is resplendent for the
magnificence of its varied decorations; the king is accustomed to frequent
it when he wishes to devote himself to leisure and tranquillity. In this same
area, in the remaining space, there are various rooms intended for the
matrons, the damsels and the eunuchs who are in the service of the king

and the queen. And there are other apartments as well, truly splendid for
the abundance of their decoration, where the king either discusses affairs
of state with his intimates in great secrecy, or else receives notables to talk
about the public affairs of the kingdom. Nor should one fail to mention the
noble workshops adjacent to the palace, where the silk cocoons are spun
into threads of various colours and are used for different kinds of woven
Falcandus describes the Palace knowledgably from top to bottom,
calling each part by its proper name, and revealing important particulars
such as the location of the royal treasures, and especially the presence of
the workshops called Nobiles Officinae, which he says are adherentes29 to
the Palace; expert Greek craftsmen worked in them, producing wonderful
woven fabrics such as the celebrated coronation mantle of Roger II (now
in the Kunsthistorische Museum in Vienna), made in 1133-34 by the
Muslim weavers of the Tiraz.30 The fame of the royal workshops and of
the working of pearls, gems and gold filigree, to which Falcandus devotes
so much attention and which is covertly alluded to also by the two court
poets, is conveyed to us also by dozens of precious objects – jewels, glass,
woven fabrics, ivories – made during and after the Norman rule,31 whereas
the actual place where they were produced, possibly to the north of the
Pisan Tower, in a well protected location suitably close to the treasury,32
has now disappeared.
Another part of the Palace that is described with care and admiration by
Falcandus, situated right in the heart of the monumental complex, has
however survived intact, and is capable of revealing to us a medieval
universe charged with messages, both open and secret, in its walls of
marble and gold. One of the best preserved medieval monuments in the
world, the Palatine Chapel is filled with the most courtly art of the
Mediterranean Middle Ages: “Moreover, those who enter the palace from
the part that overlooks the city come first to the Royal Chapel, its floor
covered with magnificent work, its walls decorated in the lower part with
slabs of precious marble and in the upper part with mosaic, partly in gold
and partly in various colours, which show scenes from the Old and New
Testament. The very high wooden ceiling is adorned with elegant carving,
with marvellous variety of painting and with a splendour of gold that sends
forth rays everywhere.”33
For the decoration of the Palatine Chapel, Roger II recruited the best
craftsmen in the Mediterranean world, for he wanted the very best for

himself, for his palace and for his kingdom. Having obtained the
recognition first of an antipope (“Anacletus II”) in 1130 and then by Pope
Innocent II,34 he wanted to affirm his magnificence and to manifest his
glory by summoning Byzantine mosaic-workers from Constantinople,
Muslim craftsmen from Fatimid Egypt, stonecutters and masons from
Campania, artisans from Ifriqiya, marble and porphyry from Rome. Thus
he set in motion a sophisticated decorative programme lasting several
years,35 that spread outwards from the Chapel to the Palace, from the city
to the whole of Southern Italy and even beyond the shores of the
The descriptions we have seen so far have all been from the last
years of Roger II’s reign or later,36 so the marvellous configuration of the
Palace already described by Idrisi and fully documented by Hugo
Falcandus undoubtedly represents the apotheosis of an architectural
development that must have taken several years. For Roger II, the
foundation of the Norman kingdom meant the start of a new and intense
building campaign, capable of giving the city an appearance worthy of a
Mediterranean capital. This campaign must necessarily have begun with
the Palace. It was not by chance that the first new construction ordered by
Roger II in his capacity as king should have been the Palatine Chapel (fig.
6). 37
If we now look at the famous description of the Palatine which the monk
Philagathus of Cerami gave when the building was already finished and
marvellously decorated, we learn that Roger II founded “this splendid
temple of the Apostles, which he built in his palace as a foundation and
bulwark, very large and most beautiful, distinguished by a new loveliness,
glimmering with light, refulgent with gold, resplendent with mosaics,
graceful with pictures”.38
So the Chapel is the foundation and bulwark of the Norman Palace, as
though the whole building orbited around a sacred space which amounts to
a political manifesto for the sovereign.39 Thus the transformations and
additions of Roger’s palace to the castle of Robert Guiscard and the count
Roger must have begun with Roger’s Chapel, built above the so-called
‘Crypt’, which seems in fact to have been the original royal chapel
founded by the duke Robert himself,40 and which provided the
foundations; there was a profound symbolic value in this, as though Roger
II meant to surpass the glory of his fathers from the very pulpit they
themselves had raised, while yet preserving its everlasting memory.

It is easier now to interpret the words of Tommaso Fazello, the only non-
contemporary writer to attribute the individual parts of the complex to
different Norman patrons: “Robert Guiscard and the count Roger, having
become masters of Palermo, fortified it even more by building in their
style very high walls as well as towers and bulwarks. The count Roger
added also a red tower built of brick […] After this the king Roger built a
Greek tower on the southern side, and another one to the north, to protect
his treasures, and he carried out building work also inside the area of the
fortress, which was called Joharia, because it was distinguished especially
for the intense splendour of its precious stones and its gold. The king
William, the first of that name, built that part which is called Tirimbi, and
which surpasses in constructional technique and in beauty those parts built
by his father Roger. His premature death interrupted this work, so that it
remained unfinished, but his son William II brought it to completion”.41
The Palatine Chapel was the driving force behind this process of
gemmation by which the castle blossomed into a noble royal palace, and at
the same time was the crucible where the acquired knowledge and skills of
different cultures were blended together to create a new syncretic
language, capable of expressing with vigour the king’s magnificence and
generating the new forms of Mediterranean art.42
Philagathus of Cerami’s description of the Palatine Chapel would alone be
sufficient to express the astonishment and wonder that it aroused in the
medieval world and still arouses, so that Guy de Maupassant called it “the
most surprising religious jewel dreamed up by human thought and
executed by artists’ hands”.43
Idrisi and Falcandus had already touched all the arguments worthily
exalted and minutely described by Philagathus: the Byzantine mosaics, the
Islamic painted wooden muqarnas ceiling,44 the marble-sheathed walls, the
floor of opus sectile, this last made by artisans from Campania as well as
Muslim craftsmen, using Islamic designs in accordance with Byzantine
tradition.45 The same mingling of artistic traditions and cultural elements
pervades each part and artefact, such as the monumental inscriptions that
came from the palace and are now in the Regional Museum in Palazzo
Abatellis; Idrisi says they are adorned with calligraphy, but it is an Islamic
calligraphy executed on stone using a Byzantine technique that is foreign
to Muslim craftsmanship.46 Another inscription brings together the three
languages of Latin, Arabic and Greek in the name of universality,
tolerance and plurality; it records the installation in 1142 of clock,

apparently similar to the one made by an Arab mechanic of Malta which
was described by a celebrated thirteenth-century Persian writer, Qazwini.
He states that it was worked by water, and indicated the hours by causing
metal balls to fall from the statue of a young girl onto bronze cymbals; it
also marked the signs of the Zodiac.47 In other words it was an automaton,
a machine that represented the ne plus ultra of technology, marking the
happy hours in a fabulous kingdom and once again manifesting the power
and magnificence of the patron, Roger II.
The development of a new artistic language, implied by the
formation of a Mediterranean koine, can be seen also in mosaics,
especially in secular ones.
In the Joharia,48 the room known as the Room of Roger conserves one of
the most important twelfth-century mosaic decorations of the entire
Mediterranean area, probably made in the time of William I.49 Byzantine
mosaics with secular subjects in the East have mostly been lost, destroyed
by the Seljuq Turks before, and by the Ottomans after the fall of
Constantinople. The mosaic in the Norman Palace, like the one in the Hall
of the Fountain in the Zisa of Palermo, offers an exceptional document in
which the hunting scenes, mythological figures and animal creatures
represented – all symbols of regality – have iconographical and stylistic
reminiscences of Persian and Mesopotamian art,50 and respond to a rigid
specular symmetry (for which a special technique was used)51 that appears
to allude to the concealed “doubleness” of all things.
Despite the creation of a new doorway, the addition of neo-gothic jambs,
lintels and wooden doors, the remaking of the floor (last replaced in the
time of the Superintendent Francesco Valenti), and despite the fact that
some restoration work has been done on the mosaics, the Room of Roger
with its corner columns, its sculptural decoration and the marble revetment
of its walls, enriched with opus sectile inlay that is for the most part
original, is one of the most refined and best preserved rooms in the Palace.
The cosmopolitan character of the Norman Palace can also be
perceived in its architecture: the Room of Roger is reached through a room
in the Joharia, square in plan, called the Hall of the Winds and
characterised by the presence of columns at the four corners, supporting
pointed arches and delimiting an ambulatory around the central space,
which at one time was perhaps open to the sky but is now covered with a
wooden roof made at the time of Victor Amadeus of Savoy (1713-1720).
The room below, the Hall of the Armigers, is similar in structure, but here

the central vault and the ceilings of the lateral ambulatories are supported
by piers that help to bear the floor above. These two rooms are very
similar to the raised atrium of the Zisa or the one in the Cuba of Palermo,
which in their architectural form recall palaces of Ifriqiya, in particular
Zirid and Fatimid ones, such as the Zirid palace of Ashir (947) or the
palaces of al-Qal’a of Beni Hammad (Dar al-Bahr, Qasr al-Manar, ca
1007), both in present-day Algeria, recalling typical features of Ifriqiya
architecture such as the durqa’a (a central space with a roof supported by
four columns, surrounded on opposite sides by rooms with niches on the
three closed sides known as iwan, or T-shaped rooms), found in some
Fatimid buildings in Cairo (Qa’a of Bechtak, Qa’a of Malik Salih, Qasr al-
Ablaq, tenth to eleventh century).52
Next to the Joharia, the Pisan Tower is a square-planned
parallelepiped, a fortified structure that from the outside might seem to
resemble the typical Norman donjon, except for the decoration, mostly
original, which animates its walls with the interplay of niches, mouldings
and surrounds that form blind arches around the single-light windows, and
which bears the unmistakeable stamp of Fatimid architecture. Structurally
it is divided into two storeys: the lower one, called the Hall of the
Treasure, consists of a well protected central room, probably the one
where according to Falcandus the treasure was kept, separated by thick
walls from an ambulatory than runs around it; the upper storey has a
central room 15 metres high, now the Hall of the President of the Sicilian
Regional Assembly, also surrounded by ambulatories, here on two levels,
with single-lighted windows looking onto the city. The volumetric concept
once again recalls Zirid architecture, and in particular it is surprising to
find that the ground-plan of the Pisan Tower is the same as that of the
Qasr al-Manar at Beni Hammad.
The upper register of the central room was covered with mosaics, of which
unfortunately there now remain only a few fragments showing horses’
hooves, suggesting either a hunting scene or possibly the capture of
Palermo by the d’Hauteville brothers.53 The lower register was probably
covered with marble panels.
Of evident Islamic character are the muqarnas that decorate one room in
the upper part of the tower, now used as the private office of the President
of the Sicilian Regional Assembly.

In the central room on the lower storey there were at one time four large
jars set into the floor,54 recalling the presence of the royal treasury, and
possibly also of the mint where coins were struck.
Another original portion of the Norman fortress is the massive
structure to the south-west, known as the Political Prison since it was
‘discovered’ in 1922 by Francesco Valenti who recuperated its medieval
facies and named it after its presumed use.55 Falcandus does in fact refer in
his Historia to a gaol, located in ipso enim palatio circa campanarium,
eamque partem, quae Turris Graeca vocabatur.56 Observing the ground-
plan of the Palace (Figs. 1, 2), identifying what remains of the bell tower
(adjacent to the south-east apse of the Palatine Chapel), and locating these
structures where the original Greek Tower once stood, it would not seem
that the prison could have been here, unless it was inside the tower itself,
whereas Falcandus’s statement becomes significant if we take into account
the viewpoint of an observer looking at the Palace from the city. From that
perspective the prison would have been exactly where it is today, i.e. in the
area between the apses of the Palatine Chapel and the Greek Tower (Fig.
4). In fact what is now called the Political Prison, for each of the three
levels of galleries with pointed arches, presents on two sides a succession
of rooms with cross vaulting and very thick walls, which might well be
suitable for the purpose proposed. The old wooden lintels found in some of
the posterns have been thought to imply the original presence of very
robust imposts.57
On the other hand almost nothing remains of the Tirimbi, explicitly
mentioned by Fazello, and apparently also alluded to by Falcandus in his
description of the middle portion of the Palace near the Joharia. The earlier
name Chirimbi appears in the chronicle written by Claudio Mario Aretino
in 1537,58 while in a vernacular document of 1359 we read “It is known
that the son of the first king Roger was crowned […] and he made the
second part of the Palace, which was called Chiri, that is to say of the
Palace of Palermo”.59 The name Chiri may derive from the Greek, but
rather than the heart of the palace, as some have suggested, it probably
indicates the apartments of the government or governor.60 In this
connection there is a surprising correspondence between Fazello’s Tirimbi,
which “surpasses in constructional technique and in beauty” the portions
built by Roger, and those other apartments mentioned by Falcandus as
being “truly splendid for the abundance of their decoration, where the king

either discusses affairs of state with his intimates in great secrecy, or else
receives notables to talk about the public affairs of the kingdom”.
Of these apartments, which stood between the Joharia and the Palatine
Chapel and were demolished to make way first for the Parliament
Chamber (1569-1571) and then for the Fountain courtyard (1571-1600),
nothing remains except a few rooms beneath the courtyard, called for this
reason hypogea, which in their original structure present walls similar to
those of the Political Prison. Rediscovered in 1946 during restoration work
on the Palatine Chapel carried out under the direction of the architect
Mario Guiotto,61 these rooms have not yet been studied with due attention,
though they have in the meanwhile provided us with a document sui
generis that arouses much curiosity.
What this consists of is the graffiti on the plastered walls of the main
room, probably dating from the Norman period, showing what is thought
to be the besieging of an unidentified city, defended with towers, by a fleet
of ships, medieval in shape and apparently Norman; the interpretation of
this scene allows scope for the imagination.62
Very little remains, unfortunately, also of the Greek Tower, which
was first reduced in height in 1537 and then entirely restructured in 1567
to create royal apartments which, after further alterations, were used by
Victor Amadeus of Savoy (1713) and by Charles III of Bourbon (1735).
However, restructuring work carried out in the 1980s and 1990s has made
it possible to recover some traces of the medieval walls, and to rediscover
the old door of the tower, which at one time gave access to what Rosario
La Duca called “the barrel-vaulted entrance to the Norman courtyard”.63
As we have seen, the complex was completed to the east by the Aula
Verde and the Red Tower; the latter not only presided over the city but
must also have functioned as the ‘pillar’ of support for the walls and
diaphragms consisting of the loggias that surrounded at least two sides of
the Aula Verde, linking together the three towers on the eastern side.
We have not yet spoken of how the palace was originally entered,
and in particular from which side. One of the entrances must have been
that Norman fornix, the barrel-vaulted entrance, a portion of the present
passageway through which we now reach the Maqueda courtyard from
Piazza del Parlamento, and where channels for a portcullis have been
discovered on the side walls.64 On the basis of these observations, it has
been suggested that the old entrance to the palace was on the south façade
of the Greek Tower itself.65 And yet, if we can rely on Falcandus, it would

seem that this was a secondary or service entrance, perhaps reserved for
the functionaries or for the royal court. Falcandus writes: “those who enter
the palace from the part that overlooks the city come first to the Royal
Chapel”. The only place from which we find the Chapel in from of our
eyes as we enter the Palace is between the Greek Tower and the Political
Prison, a space completely transformed by the construction of Maqueda
courtyard (1599).66 On the other hand Fazello writes: “the inner path
towards the fortress was not straight and wide but oblique and narrow”. A
ramp beneath the south side of the Greek Tower would have provided a
tortuous and easily defended access to an entrance dominated by the same
tower to the east and by the tall and robust structure of the Prison to the
west; through this entrance one would have seen the Palatine Chapel
straight ahead67.
To complete our full and reliable reconstruction of the Norman facies
of the royal Palace, we need to consider another urban feature that
distinguished the entire Cassaro and gave the Palace an additional value in
terms of royal display and of the political administration of the kingdom:
the Via Coperta or covered way. This, deriving from classical and Eastern
tradition, and known in Islamic cities as sabat,68 was a preferential street
covered with vaulting, intended to link the residence of the sovereign with
the principal religious building, the cathedral.
Ibn Jubayr, having described the Aula Verde, continues: “Emerging from
the said palace we passed through a continuous covered portico, walking
for a considerable distance before arriving at an immense church. We were
told that the king makes use this portico when he visits the said church.”69
Falcandus says: “[The city] is intersected by three principal streets that run
its entire length; of these the central one, which is called Via Marmorea
and is reserved for merchandise, runs straight from the upper part of the
Covered Way as far as the Arab Palace [the Calza], and beyond to the
Porta Inferiore, next to the emporium of the Saracens. The second goes
from the Pisan Tower through the Covered Way as far as the
Archiepiscopal Palace, next to the Cathedral, immediately after the Porta
Sant’Agata, and then skirts the houses of the admiral Maione and reaches
as far as the market of the Saracens, where it meets Via Marmorea. The
third one [begins] at the royal Aula ...”.70
Unfortunately nothing remains of all this,71 except for the words of Jubayr
and of Falcandus, who provides us with valuable information on the layout
of the Norman city. It is clear however that to the palace and the entire city

belongs a high place among the cosmopolitan capitals of the medieval
Just as we cannot be certain about the presence of a mint, so we
cannot say with certainty where the royal workshops were, but their
existence leaves no doubt as to the importance and centrality of the
Norman Palace in the kingdom of Sicily and in the entire political,
economic and cultural framework of the Mediterranean area.
A few objects from the treasury are still however to be found in the Palace,
including some ivory caskets, the ivory shaft of a crosier decorated with
gems, and other liturgical objects, now in the Treasury of the Palatine
Chapel.72 One of the most remarkable objects is a casket made of ivory,
ebony and mastic, dating from the twelfth century, a Fatimid artefact that
is unique both for its construction and for its state of preservation.73 The
treasures are now kept in a barrel-vaulted room between the narthex of the
Chapel and the present sacristy. This room now used as a treasury may
have been part of the original medieval nucleus, but this theory is difficult
to test, as it is not shown on any of the existing plans of the Palace!
The king’s treasures, together with the royal workshops, are a clear and
tangible sign of the power of the Norman sovereigns, and like the mosaics,
the carvings and the marble inlay, they demonstrate the intense artistic
activity and the cultural influence of the Palace in the medieval period.
The mosaics are a pure product of Comnenus art and constitute an
exceptional document of twelfth-century Byzantine art; the wooden
muqarnas ceilings are unique in the panorama of Islamic art of the Middle
Ages, extraordinary for the presence of the largest cycle of medieval
Islamic painting that has come down to us, exceptional for their excellent
state of conservation; the marbles and the floors are outstanding examples
of the opus sectile production of central and southern Italy; the twelfth-
century wooden succielo, the decoration on the intrados of an architrave
in the upper apartments of the Pisan Tower,74 other examples of wood
carving in the Regional Museum of Palazzo Abatellis and the wooden
doors still to be seen at the church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio, are all
rare examples of Fatimid woodcarving. The entire Norman Palace is the
fruit of the Mediterranean koine and at the same time the crucible of new
artistic styles; it is a place of concentration and irradiation, a force first
centripetal and then centrifugal, which has its epicentre in the heart of the

In the panorama of medieval castles, the Palace of Palermo is a
special case, far from the general run of Norman towers, donjons, castles,
fortresses and palaces.75 Transformed from a fortress into a residential
palace and seat of government, it became in fact a place for the display of
power, a theatre for the exhibition of magnificence.76 From this point of
view the Aula Verde, an open diaphragm between the Palace and the city,
must have been a genuine novelty in the panorama of medieval castles,
which were generally closed in on themselves by their high walls. The
Aula, with its complex of loggias and porticoes, constituted a half-open
interface between the seat of government and the city itself, between the
sovereign and the citizens, the preferred stage of the theatre of power, the
emblem of Roger’s novel and farsighted policies.77 To this was added the
Palace’s official aspect, the internal courtyard, which today we are able to
imagine thanks to Valenti’s hypothetical reconstruction (Fig. 6), a space
entirely conditioned by the astonishing impact made by the Palatine
Chapel. It divided the institutional and public area from the residential,
private and secret area, which could only be reached by crossing a sacred
space,78 a kind of magic box,79 in which were juxtaposed parallel worlds,
the temporal one of the sovereign and the spiritual one of Christ, the
terrestrial and the celestial, in an interplay of specular allusions that would
seem to duplicate the vision of the world, or rather double it, as in the
symmetries of the mosaics in the Room of Roger.
So it is not surprising that the Palace of Palermo, with its extraordinary
capacity for display, should have been compared in structure and function
with the Vatican and with the imperial Palace of Constantinople.80
But once we have understood the functions of the forms in the
reconstruction of their original arrangements, we naturally ask the
question: where do these forms come from? How is it that the Norman
Palace is so different from castles of the same period, the forms of which
are generally crystal-clear, rational, geometrically symmetrical and
ordered? What role did the pre-existing Norman or Islamic structures play?
To answer these questions we need to go back some way in time, long
before the reign of Roger II.
It has been observed that the asymmetrical and polygonal forms of the
royal Palace were probably derived from the substructures and pre-existing
structures that must necessarily have conditioned the physiognomy of the

The thorny problem of the pre-existing structures seems first to have
been addressed by Fazello, who thus begins his description of the Palace
of Palermo: “There is a very famous fortress called the royal Palace built
with magnificently squared stones […] Letters cut in them indicate that it
was built over the ruins of an old fortress of the Saracens as soon as
Palermo was conquered”.82
On the other hand it has often been pointed out that no source more
reliable than the mysterious lettering seen by Fazello has ever been
discovered to prove the existence of a fortress or palace in the Islamic
period, which is why the history of the royal Palace of Palermo “must
begin with the Norman conquest”.83
To verify the presence of pre-existing structures we need to look at
the archaeological as well as the documentary evidence.
The only archaeological excavations in the area of the Palace of
Palermo were carried out by chance in the last century: one by Guiotto in
1946, and one by the Superindendency for the Cultural and Environmental
Patrimony of Palermo in 1984-90. The first dig took place in the area of
the lower church of the Palatine, at a site adjacent to the building’s south-
east flank, to verify the condition of the foundations of the Chapel above.
Once the excavation had been made, a number of rooms from Roman
times were discovered, with perimetral walls and floors, 9.45 m beneath
the floor of the crypt and 8.25 m beneath the Maqueda courtyard. So as not
to compromise the statics of the chapels, the excavation was filled in again
once it had been fully documented.84
It is curious that Guiotto in 1947 should have emphasised that the
presence of pre-existing structures of the Roman period, documented by
Polybius and supposed by historians,85 was effectively verified. He could
not have known that forty years later, some 40 m to the west, an entire
section of Punic wall would be unearthed, providing further confirmation
of the very ancient and constant stratification that took place in the area of
the Palace over many centuries. For at the same level as Guiotto’s finds,
during functional restoration work on the Montalto Hall a chance
discovery was made of the walls of the Punic paleapolis, dating from the
fifth century B.C., together with a gateway flanked by two towers, a
postern and a backing wall, this last dating from the third century B.C.86
Today, in the room beneath the Montaldo Hall it is possible to examine
these structures: the Punic walls and gateway are built of isodomic ashlar,
well squared and without the use of mortar; the Hellenistic walls are built

of large blocks and mortar, reducing the dimensions of the gateway and
eliminating the postern. It seems that the gateway was used until the
Islamic period, and in Norman times was closed by a wall built slightly to
the west, composed of small blocks of calcaranite with abundant use of
The gateway was initially identified as the Bab al-abna’,87 the gate
mentioned by Ibn Hauqal in the travel diary he wrote after visiting
Palermo around the year 973; but it is more likely to be the Bab al Ryad
[gate of the gardens], while the Bab al-abna’ [gate of the buildings] should
probably be identified with the Norman porta aedificiorum, later called the
porta palatii and located between the royal Palace and the church of San
Giovanni degli Eremiti. Ibn Hauqal himself records that in the area of the
Bab al-Ryad “there was a gate called Ibn Qurhub, situated in a poorly
fortified area”, and that the emir Abu’l-Husayn Ahmad ibn Asan “closed it
up and forbade its use”.88
Two excavations are not of course enough, but they do give us an idea of
what might lie concealed beneath the royal Palace. It has recently been
observed that the possibilities of discovering new and hitherto unknown
levels depend on the old sources and on excavations.89 It has then been
asserted that since the former cannot be multiplied, it is to the latter that
we must turn in order to shed light on those 8 m of darkness that lie
between the Roman and the medieval layers.90 As regards the sources, this
supposition has luckily turned out to be incorrect, while as regards the
excavations, it should be noted that the su pposed rock on which first the
paleapolis and then the fortress are said to have stood, never existed,91 and
in fact the level of the Punic wall is 3 m below that of Piazza Indipendenza
or of Piazza della Vittoria (fig. 7).
So, it may be that in the 8 m difference between the Punic remains and the
Norman foundations, described as a “thick pall of collapses and
buryings”,92 lie the secrets of the most ancient part of the city of Palermo.
It is also true that the section of medieval wall discovered near the Punic
wall lies at the same level as the latter, but on the other hand it is
surprising that the lower storey of the Pisan Tower stands at the level of
the Fontana courtyard, higher than the lower church and about 15 m above
the Punic-Roman remains. Certainly 15 m can easily contain a thousand
years of history. The mound of Cassaro must have formed over the course
of centuries, and this orographic configuration of anthropic origin
evidently persuaded Robert Guiscard to build his castle-fortress on it, a

place already privileged in itself. “A very high place”, Amatus of
Montecassino called it,93 and later Falcandus concluded his description of
the Palace with these words: “So arranged, so adorned, so filled with the
refinement of every sort of pleasure, the Palace surveys the whole city, like
a head surveying the rest of the body”.94
Within this thick pall there may lie concealed traces of the fortified citadel
that existed during the occupation by the Goths, in the reign of Theoderic,
and was conquered by the Byzantine general Belisarius in 535.95 After
Byzantium it was the turn of Islam. The Aghlabids of Ifriqiya began the
occupation of Sicily in 827 and conquered Palermo in 831. The Muslim
occupation of Palermo lasted 240 years, yet this very period has left us
with a vacuum in which the royal Palace arose, a vacuum that people have
been trying to fill ever since the time of Fazello, but which never emerges
in its consistency to support the Norman foundations with pre-existing
substructures. So let us confront this material vacuum with the
documentary sources of the Islamic period.
The population of Balarm, consisting of Arabs, Berbers, Andalusians
and Persians, called the city Qasr, that is to say the fortress, the fortified
citadel.96 The old Panormus, called Balarm in the Arabic transliteration,
thus became Qasr al-Siqilliyya. It is impossible to determine whether Qasr
applied to the whole city (Cassaro), or just to some fortress that must have
been in the area of the ancient paleapolis. On the other hand the Arabic
sources we possess (the Cambridge Chronicle, al-Muqaddasi, Ibn Hauqal,
Ibn al-Athir) describe the city in a period later than the foundation of the
new external emiral citadel, built in 937 and known as al-Halisa (the
elect), now Calza, and they apply the name al-Qasr al-qadim (the old or
ancient citadel) to the old city surrounded by a wall and provided
according to Hauqal with nine gates. For this reason the Arabic sources
never speak of the Emir’s residence being inside the Qasr, nor is the royal
Palace ever mentioned as being in the place where it now stands.
Earlier information on the founding of the Halisa can however be found in
a Greek source, the letter of the monk Theodosius, who describes his
capture after the conquest of Syracuse by the Aghlabids in 878. The monk,
brought before the Emir in Palermo, wrote: […] post die quintum ad
majorem Amiram introducimur. Is autem ad solarium superbe in solio
considens […] His responsis attonitus extemplo nos in carcerem retrudi
iubet: ducti incedebamus media Urbis platea in popularium conspectu.97

If the media urbis platea was in fact the present Piazza della Vittoria, we
might suppose that the Emir’s palace in the Aghlabid period stood where
now stands the royal Palace,98 and the solarium might be taken to refer to
an ancient Roman basilica, or in any case to a loggia later transformed into
the Aula Verde.99
The silence of the Arabic sources is answered by many voices from
the Latin side, which we may subdivide into the periods of Guiscard,
Roger and William. The first is represented in particular by the Ystoria
Normannorum by Amatus of Montecassino (ca 1080), by the Gesta
Roberti Wiscardi by William of Apulia (ca 1095), by the De rebus gestis
Rogerii Calabriae et Siciliae Comitis et Roberti Guiscardi Ducis fratris
eius by Gaufredo Malaterra (1099), and lastly by the Historia Sicula by the
Anonymus Vaticanus (1266-1285).
Amatus writes: “Lo Duc […] il fist une forte roche, et la fist molt bien
garder, et la forni de choses de vivre, pour lonc temps et à grant
In the Chronicle of Robert Guiscard we read: “Et à ce que li citadin non
avissent hardement de rompre les covenances et faire bataille, [Roger and
Robert] firent faire chasteaux moult fors, l’un après de la mere, et l’autre
en un lieu qui se clame Galga, et les firent faire en brief temps”.101
The information about the building of the castrum maris and the castle of
the Galga is reinforced by the Anonymus Vaticanus, who states that the
two brothers “built in a short time two very strong castles, one near the
sea, the other in a place called Galea, to avert possible threats”.102
From William of Apulia we learn that the Halisa, the citadel of the Emir,
was first conquered (Urbe nova capta veteri clauduntur in urbe) after a
siege lasting six months, and that Robert “had the castles fortified with
strong walls so that his troops could be sheltered from the Sicilians and
had them supplied with wells and with the necessary victuals”.103
In these chronicles we find the earliest references to the halqa, an Arabic
term that indicates the circle, or the closed place,104 located in the highest
part of the Cassaro, corresponding to the ancient paleapolis, which
provided the name for this part of the city in the Norman period and which
suggests the presence of an Islamic fortress. However for Amatus and the
Anonymus Vaticanus the castles were built from scratch, whereas William
of Apulia seems to imply that they already existed, and that Robert merely
reinforced them. In this case we might presume that the Galka, understood
as the circuit of walls, was indeed built by Robert, and that Amatus and the

Anonymus, in speaking about new fortifications, were referring to this
very Galka. In fact Hauqal mentions that this place was at one time
“poorly fortified”. It should be noted that the word halqa or galqa does not
appear in any of the Arabic sources, so the Genoardo of Palermo, the
paradise garden of Islamic tradition made by the Norman sovereigns, is not
attested in the earlier period, and in any case takes its name from the
Arabic appellation Jannath-al-hard (paradise on earth).
Gaufredo Malaterra and Amatus of Montecassino describe the moment of
the conquest of the city, the simultaneous attack by the two brothers on the
city walls with the help of scaling ladders, the seizure of the new citadel,
the surrender of the old city. Malaterra adds that Robert, once the mosque
had been re-converted into the Cathedral, castello firmato et urbe pro
velle suo disposita,105 continued the conquest of Sicily. The Latin verb
firmare is used very often by the chronicler, and rather than build it may
mean reinforce, suggesting that the castles already existed, whereas for
foundations ex-novo, such as the one in Messina, he writes aedificare
coepit fondamenta castelli e turres apud Messanam,106 or for Geraci
fortissima turrim fecit apud Geraci,107 and so on for Agrigento and for
other places as well.
Lastly, if the covered way or sabat mentioned by Ibn Jubayr, with its
particular function and its Islamic tradition, already existed in the pre-
Norman period, it would help to confirm the existence of an Aghlabid
emiral palace inside the Galka.
The information about the founding of two castles, one near the sea and
one in the area called Galea, is important also for other reasons. Above all
it introduces the necessity of treating the sources with circumspection. The
new Castello a Mare for example will later be called vetus palatium in
contradistinction to the palatium novum or castrum superius of the time of
Roger.108 This circumspection regarding the sources is all the more
necessary when we come to the sources of Roger’s period, for whom the
royal Palace seems founded ex nihilo, as though Guiscard’s castrum had
never existed. The same might be said about the castrum maris: according
to the sources it would seem impossible that there existed an Islamic qasr
or hisn (fortress) where today remain the few ruins of Castello a Mare.
To disprove the impossibility of discovering new data from written
sources, there comes a recent lucky find: a manuscript of the thirteenth or
fourteenth century copied from an original dating from around 1025, found
in 2002 in the Bodleian Library in Oxford.109 It is an Arabic geographical

treatise entitled Kitb ar’ib al-funwa-mulah al-‘uyn (Book of the curiosities
of the sciences and of marvels for the eyes), and it contains a map of
Sicily with a representation of Palermo.110 This new source adds three
gates to the nine seen by Ibn Hauqal, new walls to the Islamic city,111 but
especially it clearly shows two towers for the protection of the port, and is
thus the earliest testimony for a castle on the sea. We can thus be certain
that the castrum maris arose on a pre-existing structure, and probably still
contains it in what little remains. This is confirmed also by the Islamic-
type graves that have been found there,112 which at this point may be
regarded as dating from the Aghlabid or Kalbid period. A similar source
may one day revolutionise our understanding of the royal Palace, but until
that day comes we can only speculate and advance hypotheses that are
more or less plausible.
It is interesting to note how the sources of the king Roger’s time all tend to
downplay the efforts of the duke Robert and the count Roger, attributing
all merit to the sovereign.
In addition to the ones we have already listed there is the important
testimony of Romuald Guarna of Salerno: “Meanwhile the king Roger,
who in time of peace or of war was never idle, having reassured himself of
the peace and tranquillity of his kingdom, decided to build in Palermo a
most beautiful palace, in which he built a chapel covered with splendid
mosaics, which he covered with a gilded ceiling and enriched and
decorated with various ornaments”.113
Benjamin of Tudela even seems to attribute the paternity of the Palace to
Roger II’s successor: indeed his vague reference to a “royal Palace
sumptuously built by the king William”114 in the city of Palermo, which
many have identified with the Zisa, might in fact refer to the royal
Palace.115 In these cases however the structures pre-existing the phase of
Roger are certain and well documented, so it is only a matter of re-
configuration by means of additions, as may have been be the case with
the castle of Caronia which Idrisi describes as a new hisn within the qal’a
qadima (fortress inside the old citadel).116
At this point we are in a position to hazard a hypothetical
reconstruction of the history of the medieval facies: after the Goth and
Byzantine occupations, and the arrival of the Muslims in 831, the ancient
paleapolis of Palermo was transformed into the Qasr, the city-fortress and
Aghlabid emiral palace, on the model of the Almohad Alcàzar in Seville
(twelfth century), of the Qal’a of Beni Hammad (1007), or even more of

the Madinat al-Zahra (936), Ummayad citadel near Cordoba.117 A series of
internal struggles, but especially the Fatimid conquest in 916 and the
consequent conversion of Sunnis to Shi’ites provoked a wave of dissidence
and reaction that culminated in the siege of 937 and the foundation by Alil
ibn Ishaq of a new emiral citadel, the Halisa. The emir’s residence was
moved to the new citadel, and the Qasr acquired the attribute al-qadim
In 1071 the Normans besieged first the new citadel, presumably destroying
it, and then captured the old one. At this point Robert Guiscard founded a
new castle, and especially built new walls, either making or remaking the
Galka. He also built a chapel, the first one, whereas it was the count Roger
who raised the Red Tower. In this phase the old west gate of the palace
was closed up, identifiable as the Bab al-Ryad. During the regency of
Adelasia, mother of Roger II, Palermo was chosen as the seat of the
countship. This may have been in 1112, when her son, the future king, was
dubbed knight in the castle superius in Palermo.118
The rest we already know, but only now can we understand the
Palace as a building inside the castle and imagine its Norman
configuration (figs. 8, 9). The Aula Verde, the Red Tower, the church of
Santa Maria della Pinta that stood on the area outside the Palace until it
was demolished in 1648-1649 by Cardinal Trivulzio, the covered way –
all these were monuments forming part of the citadel-fortress.
Above all, we now know that the Norman facies of the royal Palace of
Palermo cannot be studied in isolation. Each phase must be seen in its
context, and the study of each individual phase must not exclude
consideration of the others, since they all form a palimpsest of the city’s
history, an important component in the history of the Mediterranean.
This understanding of the medieval and post-medieval facies is possible
only through the instruments we now possess – surveys, scientific
analyses, new data, mapping – which are capable of providing a deep
knowledge of the stratifications of the Palace and a new way of studying
the monument. Through this knowledge, and through an understanding of
the pre-Norman past, possible only through small soundings and genuine
archaeological excavations, such as La Duca said were easy to do and
Valenti planned but never carried out, we may perhaps one day uncover
the real treasure of the Palace, now firmly concealed within its entrails.

1) Planimetria del secondo livello del Palazzo Reale di Palermo (da Il Palazzo dei Normanni, testi di
Roberto Calandra …[et al], Novecento, Palermo 1991).

2) Planimetria del Palazzo Reale di Palermo con indicazione delle strutture medievali (da Giuseppe
Bellafiore, Architettura in Sicilia nelle età islamica e normanna (827-1194), Arnaldo Lombardi
Editore, Palermo 1990, p. 142.

3) Il Palazzo Reale di Palermo in un particolare della pianta di Palermo incisa nel 1581 da Franz
Hogemberg (da Cesare De Seta, Leonardo Di Mauro, Palermo, (nella collana Le città nella storia
d’Italia) La Terza, Bari 1981, figg. 18)

4) Ricostruzione ideale del Palazzo dei Normanni di Palermo, eseguita da Paolo Loiacono sotto la
direzione di Francesco Valenti (da Francesco Valenti, Il palazzo reale di Palermo, in «Bollettino
d’arte», Milano 1925, pp. 512-528, fig. 13)

5) Malattia e morte di Guglielmo II, Liber ad honorem Augusti di Pietro da Eboli, Berna, Biblioteca
Civica, cod. 120, c. 97r. (da Federico e la Sicilia dalla terra alla corona, arti figurative e arti suntuarie,
a cura di Maria Andaloro, Arnaldo Lombardi Editore, Napoli 2000, fig. 2)

6) Veduta prospettica ideale della corte del Palazzo dei Normanni con la Cappella Palatina, eseguita da
Paolo Loiacono sotto la direzione di Francesco Valenti nel 1931 (da Lucio Trizzino, La Palatina di
Palermo, dalle opere funzionali al restauro, dal ripristino alla tutela, Flaccovio, Palermo 1989, fig.

7) Sezione del Palazzo Reale di Palermo (da Il Palazzo dei Normanni, testi di Roberto Calandra …[et
al], Novecento, Palermo 1991).

8) Planimetria stratigrafica del Palazzo Reale di Palermo elaborata a partire dalle planimetrie già
pubblicate, con indicazione delle strutture medievali esistenti e di quelle desunte sulla base delle fonti e
dei saggi archeologici effettuati fino ad oggi (Ruggero Longo)

9) Ricostruzione ideale della reggia normanna elaborata a partire dal disegno pubblicato da Francesco
Valenti (inchiostro di china, Ruggero Longo)

These passages are taken from ALESSANDRO DI TELESE, Ruggero II re di Sicilia, Italian
translation by VITO LO CURTO, Cassino 2003, pp. 64-67. A slightly different translation is given by
Ferdinando Maurici, who more emphatically renders the dismay as “such as to arouse no little fear
in those who had come from far away”. See FERDINANDO MAURICI, “I castelli normanni”, in Storia
di Palermo, ed. by ROSARIO LA DUCA, vol. III, Palermo 2003, p. 73.
See below, pp. 24-25.
See AMATO DI MONTECASSINO, Historia Normannorum, VI, XXIII; Storia de’ Normanni di
Amato di Montecassino, volgarizzata in antico francese, ed. by VINCENZO DE BARTHOLOMAEIS,
Roma 1935; See the Italian translation by GIUSEPPE SPERDUTI, Cassino 1999, p. 141.
See LUIGI GAROFALO, Tabularium regiae ac imperialis Cappellae collegiatae divi Petri in
regio Panormitano Palatio Ferdinandi 2. regni utriusque Siciliae regis, Palermo 1835, diploma
1132; L'età normanna e sveva in Sicilia: mostra storico-documentaria e bibliografica, Palermo,
Palazzo dei Normanni, 18 November-15 December 1994, pp. 36-37.
The various transformations of the royal Palace of Palermo were synthetically reconstructed
for the first time by the Superintendent Francesco Valenti in an essay entitled Il Palazzo Reale e la
Villa della Favorita in Palermo, del 1920, preserved in the Valenti archive in the Biblioteca
Comunale of Palermo, coll. 5Qq.E.146 n°13°, pp. 14-19, later published in part with the title “Il
palazzo reale di Palermo”, in Bollettino d’arte, Milan 1925, pp. 512-528, in particular p. 527; from
this comes the short but useful overview of the constructional history of the Palace published by
ROSARIO LA DUCA, Il Palazzo dei Normanni, Palermo 1997, pp. 11-17.
Infra, p. 15; TOMMASO FAZELLO, De Rebus Siculis decades duae, Palermo 1558; ed.
consulted: Storia di Sicilia, introduction, Italian translation and notes by ANTONINO DE ROSALIA
and GIANFRANCO NUZZO, Palermo 1990, vol. I, p. 370.

See CESARE DE SETA, LEONARDO DI MAURO, Palermo (in the series Le città nella storia
d’Italia), Bari 1981, figs. 18, 35. Very useful for the same purpose is the contemporary map by
Matteo Florimi (ca. 1580, ibid., fig. 33), used by Braun and Hogenberg to update their engravings
based on the reliefs executed ten years previously.
Begun in 1571, partially completed in 1581-1584 and finished in 1600, after the
construction of the Grande Galleria del Palazzo (this latter replaced a loggia begun by the viceroy
Don Garcia di Toledo in 1567 and was completed in the second decade of the 17th century; it
corresponds to the present Sala Rossa, Sala Gialla and Sala Verde), and its consequent closure
towards the city. See VALENTI, Il Palazzo Reale e la Villa cit., pp. 15-16; IDEM, Il Palazzo reale cit.,
p. 527. See also LA DUCA, Il Palazzo dei Normanni cit., pp. 13-14.
Vide infra, p. 5.
The Aula Verde was finally demolished at the time of the construction of the new loggia,
built in 1567 by the viceroy Don Garcia di Toledo, located between the Greek Tower and the
Joharia (never finished, and replaced in the 17th century by the Grande Galleria del Palazzo), and of
the demolition of the Red Tower in 1553. See also VINCENZO DI GIOVANNI, La topografia antica di
Palermo dal secolo X al XV, Palermo 1889, vol. I, pp. 371-390; La Duca, Il Palazzo cit., pp. 120-
The poems have come down to us in a collection compiled in the later 12th century by the
Persian Imad ‘ad din al Isfahani, who made alterations and cuts, as he found unacceptable the
excessive adulation of an infidel (Roger II). See BENEDETTO PATERA, L’arte della Sicilia normanna
nelle fonti medievali, Palermo 1980, pp. 38-43; MICHELE AMARI, Biblioteca Arabo Sicula
(henceforth BAS), Turin 1880, vol. II, p. 437-438. Considering the references to the king, the poems
must have been written prior to 1154.
Taken from Poeti arabi di Sicilia, ed. by CARLO RUTA, Palermo 2001, p. 47.
Taken from AMARI, BAS, II, p. 438.
See GIOVANNI BATTISTA SIRAGUSA, La Historia o Liber de Regno Sicilie e la Epistola ad
Petrum Panormitane Ecclesie Thesaurarium / di Ugo Falcando, Rome 1897, p. 62. The book of
Hugo Falcandus was written after 1181.
See SALVATORE TRAMONTANA, Lettera ad un tesoriere di Palermo sulla conquista sveva in
Sicilia, Palermo 1988, p. 139. We cannot be certain that the author of the Epistola, written around
1190, also wrote the Historia, so some scholars attribute it to pseudo-Falcando (See SIRAGUSA, La
Historia cit., pp. VIII-XL; SALVATORE TRAMONTANA, La lettera dello pseudo Ugo Falcando: una
lettura filologica, in Nobiles Officinae. Perle, filigrane e trame di seta dal Palazzo Reale di
Palermo, catalogue of the exhibition curated by MARIA ANDALORO, Palermo 2006, vol. II, pp. 81-
See FAZELLO, De Rebus Siculis cit., p. 370; LA DUCA, Il Palazzo cit., p. 107. The stones of
the Red Tower were used in 1567 to build the Toledo Loggia, later transformed into the Grande
Galleria del Palazzo (vide supra, notes 8, 10; VALENTI, Il Palazzo Reale e la Villa cit., p. 31).
See LA DUCA, Il Palazzo cit., p. 108.
Francesco Valenti states that he found the foundations of a loggia with seven arches
between the Torre Greca and the Torre Pisana (VALENTI, Il palazzo reale cit., p. 515), and that the
viceroy Don Garcia di Toledo used these foundations to build his loggia in 1567 (ibid., p. 31).
For the Aula Verde, see LA DUCA, Il Palazzo cit., pp. 120-125. The Aula Verde is also dealt
with in DI GIOVANNI, La topografia cit., pp. 371-420.
Translation by Celestino Schiapparelli, from PATERA, L’arte della Sicilia cit., p. 92. It is
interesting that the traveller says he was astonished by the size of the aula, and that Falcandus in the
same period mentions a space located in front of the palace capable of holding a great multitude of
Among these is the Cronica of Ramon Muntaner, composed in 1327, in which we read:
“and when the appointed day came, and all were in Palermo, at the ringing of the bell they gathered

together in the great green hall where a throne had been set up for the queen and others for the
princes, magnates and knights; all the others without distinction sat on the ground, where tapestries
had been laid down” (from the Cronache catalane del secolo XIII e XIV, Italian translation by FILIPPO
MOISÈ, Firenze 1844, pp. 240-241).
See DI GIOVANNI, La topografia cit., pp. 374-377; LA DUCA, Il Palazzo cit., pp. 124-125.
Ante arcem ipsam atrium erat, vernacule Sala olim, sed aetate mea Sala viridis dictum,
amplum, spatiosum, quod ad ludos, spectaculaque edenda, ac Regis conciones ad populum
habendas theatri usum praebebat, locus et pario lapide constratus, et muro circumseptus:
FAZELLO, De Rebus Siculis cit., p. 373.
Ibidem; LA DUCA, Il palazzo cit., p. 125. An interesting hypothesis is that the Aula was
originally the ancient Roman basilica (DI GIOVANNI, La topografia antica cit., p. 384), which would
explain the abundance of ingentium saxorum and of pario lapide constratus. In 1444-1445 and
1454 records were made at the Conservatoria della Real Casa of concessions to private individuals,
that they might use the stones of the Aula Verde (DI GIOVANNI, La topografia antica cit., p. 377-
378; LA DUCA, Il Palazzo cit., p. 125.
For the attribution and dating of this illuminated manuscript, see SIBYL KRAFT, Ein
Bilderbuch aus dem Königreich Sizilien: kunsthistorische Studien zum “Liber ad honorem Augusti”
des Petrus von Eboli (Codex 120 II der Burgerbibliothek Bern), Weimar-Jena 2006, pp. 78-82;
GIULIA OROFINO, “Incognitae officinae; il problema degli scriptoria di età sveva in Italia
meridionale”, in Medioevo: le officine, Atti del Convegno internazionale di studi, Parma, 22-27
September 2009, ed. by ARTURO CARLO QUINTAVALLE, Parma 2010, pp. 468-480, in particular pp.
476-477. For the various comparisons, see MAURICI, I castelli normanni cit., pp. 66-82, in particular
pp. 73-77.
See LA DUCA, Il palazzo cit., pp. 121-122. Another image that might recall or at any rate
evoke the Aula Verde is the miniature c. 142r of the Liber, the caption of which reads: teatrum
imperialis palacii, where we see a scene of tribute inserted into series of arches, and in the centre a
fountain in the form of a human face, indicated as fons Arethuse (See MAURICI, I castelli cit., p. 75).
AMARI, BAS, vol. I, pp. 59-62. According to the interesting Italian translation by Umberto
Rizzitano, the citadel was made recently for the exalted king Roger; the rooms and apartments,
rather than being comfortable, were constructed perfectly. See PATERA, L' arte della Sicilia cit., pp.
Italian translation by PATERA, L' arte della Sicilia cit., pp. 96-98.
Salvatore Tramontana (Lettera cit., pp. 137-138), translates esemplari opifici annessi,
whereas the Glossarium mediæ et infimæ latinitatis (DU CANGE et al., 1883-1887) has: aderente, or
contiguo, but also as an appendice, in the sense of an appurtenance, not necessarily attached.
For the mantle of Roger II, see ROTRAUD BAUER, Il manto di Ruggero II e le vesti regie,
and WILLIAM TRONZO, Il manto di Ruggero II. Le parti e il tutto, in Nobiles Officinae cit., vol. II,
pp. 171-182 and pp. 257-266.
For the objects produced in the officine of the royal Palace of Palermo, see the catalogue of
the exhibition Nobiles Officinae cit., voll. I e II. See also L’età normanna e sveva in Sicilia: mostra
storico-documentaria e bibliografica, Palermo, Palazzo dei Normanni, 18 November-15 December
See WILLIAM TRONZO, “Il Palazzo dei Normanni di Palermo come esibizione”, in Nobiles
Officinae cit., vol. II, pp. 25-31, in particular p. 31.
Da PATERA, L’arte della Sicilia cit., pp. 97-98.
See MARIO CARAVALE, Il regno normanno di Sicilia, Milano 1966, p. 45; PIERRE AUBÈ,
Ruggero II Re di Sicilia, Calabria e Puglia, Roma 2002, pp. 121-216.
For the chronology of the decorative scheme of the Palatine Chapel, see: OTTO DEMUS, The
mosaics of Norman Sicily, London 1949, pp. 25-29; ERNST KITZINGER, ‘The mosaics of the
Cappella Palatina in Palermo: an Essay on the choice and arrangement of subjects’, in Art Bulletin

31 (1949), pp. 269-292; IDEM, I mosaici del periodo normanno in Sicilia: La Cappella Palatina di
Palermo, i mosaici del presbiterio, Palermo 1992, pp. 9-12; WILLIAM TRONZO, The cultures of his
Kingdom. Roger II and the Cappella Palatina in Palermo, Princeton 1997, pp. 3-16 and especially
the four volumes of La Cappella Palatina a Palermo, ed. by BEAT BRENK, “Mirabilia Italiae” 1ι,
Modena 2010.
In particular, Idrisi ends his Kitāb nuzhat al-mushtāq fī ikhtirāq al-āfāq (The amusement for
those who delight in travelling the world) shortly before the death of Roger II in 1154; Ibn Jubayr
spends a week in Palermo between 1183 and 1184; Falcandus writes the Epistola shortly after the
death of William II in 1189.
Vide supra, note 4.
See MARIA LUIGIA FOBELLI, “L’ekphrasis di Filgato da Cerami sulla Cappella Palatina e il
suo modello”, in Medioevo: i modelli, Atti del Convegno internazionale di studi, Parma, 27
Septeber-1 October 1999, ed. by ARTURO CARLO QUINTAVALLE, Milan 2002, pp. 267-275, in
particular p. 267. BRUNO LAVAGNINI, Profilo di Filigato da Cerami con traduzione dell’Omelia
XXVII pronunziata dal pulpito della Cappella Palatina in Palermo, Palermo 1992, p. 9, translates:
“quasi a fondamento e baluardo…”.
For the particular functional concept of the Palatine Chapel, see KITZINGER, The mosaics of
Norman cit.; SLOBODAN ĆURČIĆ, “Some Palatine Aspects of the Cappella Palatina in Palermo”, in
Dumbarton Oaks Papers XLI, 1987, pp. 125-144; MARIA ANDALORo, “Le arti nel teatro del potere”,
in MARIA ANDALORO, FRANCESCO INDOVINA, Palermo la splendida. Arabi e normanni in una città
mediterranea, Roma 1998, pp. 92-119; EADEM, I mosaici e altra pittura, in Storia di Palermo cit.,
vol. III, pp. 184-211, in particular pp. 186-190, and especially TRONZO, The cultures cit.
VLADIMIR ZORIČ, “Arx praeclara quam Palatium Regale appellant. Le sue origini e la prima
Cappella della corte normanna”, in Schede medievali 34-35, January-December 1998, pp. 31-139.
See FAZELLO, De rebus siculis cit., p. 370.
The notion of syncretism in the arts of Norman Palermo, and in particular of the “genetic
syncretism”, “an active principle also for the ideation and making of individual works”, is
formulated by MARIA ANDALORO, “‘Baciane l’angolo … e contempla le bellezze che contiene’.
Ruggero II e l’antico visitatore della reggia di Palermo”, in Medioevo: la Chiesa e il Palazzo, Atti
del Convegno internazionale di studi, Parma, 20-24 September 2005, ed. by ARTURO CARLO
QUINTAVALLE, Parma 2007, pp. 504-519, in particular p. 508.
GUY DE MAUPASSANT, La vie errante, Paris 1890. From the passage on the Palatine Chapel
(pp. 27-33), Italian translation by Phierre Thomas (Viaggio in Sicilia (La Sicile), ed. by PHIERRE
THOMAS, Palermo 1977).
For the ceiling of the Palatine Chapel, see UGO MONNERET DE VILLARD, Le pitture
musulmane al soffitto della Cappella Palatina in Palermo, Roma 1950; ERNST J. GRUBE, JEREMY
JOHNS, The painted ceilings of the Cappella Palatina, Genoa-New York 2005.
See RUGGERO LONGO, “L’opus sectile nei cantieri normanni: una squadra di marmorari tra
Salerno e Palermo”, in Medioevo: le officine cit., pp. 179-189; IDEM, “Le decorazioni in opus sectile
della Cappella Palatina di Palermo - Nuovi materiali per nuove ricerche”, and JONATHAN M.
BLOOM, “‘Islamic’ design in the mosaic pavement of the Cappella Palatina”, in the International
Symposium Overlay of Plans. The Palace Chapel of the Norman Kings in Sicily, Palermo and
Tübingen, 7-9 February 2009, c.s.
JEREMY JOHNS, “Le iscrizioni e le epigrafi arabo. Una rilettura”, in Nobiles Officinae cit., II,
pp. 47-68, in particular p. 58; IDEM, Tre lastre frammentarie con iscrizioni arabe in lode di Ruggero
II dal palazzo di Palermo, ibid., I, pp. 499-502, in particular p. 499.
PUGLIESE CARRATELLI, Milano 1979, p. 52; L’eta normanna e sveva in Sicilia cit., p. 30; LA DUCA,
Il palazzo cit., pp. 57-62.

From the Arabic gawhariyya, “precious”; al-gawhariyyah, “adorns it with precious stones”
(See ADALGISA DE SIMONE, “Palermo araba”, in Storia di Palermo cit., vol. II, pp. 77-114, in
particular p. 85; MAURICI, I castelli cit., p. 72).
See DEMUS, The mosaics cit., who for stylistic reasons ascribes the mosaics to the period of
William I (1154-1166). ANDALORO, I mosaici e altra pittura cit., vol. III, pp. 184-211, in particular
pp. 190-192.
See ANDALORO, I mosaici e altra pittura cit., p. 191.
In particular, it seems likely that in order to execute the perfectly symmetrical figures the
craftsmen rotated the same cartoon through 180°.
See GIUSEPPE BELLAFIORE, Architettura in Sicilia nelle età islamica e normanna (827-
1194), Palermo 1990, p. 55-68; LUCIEN GOLVIN, Le Magrib Central a l’époque des Zirides, Paris
1957, pp. 180-195.
ERNST KITZINGER, “The mosaic fragments in the Torre Pisana of the Royal Palace in
Palermo, a preliminary study”, in Studies in late antique, Byzantine and medieval Western art,
London 2002-2003, pp. 1099-1113; IDEM, La Cattedrale di Cefalu, la Cattedrale di Palermo e il
Museo diocesano. Mosaici profani, Accademia nazionale di scienze, lettere e arti di Palermo,
Palermo 2000, pp. 19-21.
See BELLAFIORE, Architettura cit., p. 144; L’arte siculo-normanna: la cultura islamica
nella Sicilia medievale, Milano 2004, p. 128.
See VALENTI, Il palazzo reale cit., p. 516.
SIRAGUSA, La Historia cit., p. 53.
See FRANCESCO VALENTI, “Lavori eseguiti dalla Soprintendenza dei Monumenti nel
Palazzo Reale di Palermo dal Novembre 1921 a tutt’oggi”, typescript in the Valenti archive,
Biblioteca Comunale di Palermo, coll. 5Qq.E.146 n 131, p. 13.
See CLAUDII MARII ARETII, “De situ Insulae Siciliae”, in J. B. CARUSO, Biblioteca Historica
Regni Siciliae, Panormi 1723, tome I, pp. 5-30, in particular p. 7: Alteram Chirimbrim nomine,
Vilielmus rex, cognomento malus (facienda curavit).
Cronichi di quistu Regno di Sichiliad dall’anno MLXVIII al MCCCLIX, in VINCENZO DI
GIOVANNI, “Cronache siciliane dei secoli XIII XIX XV”, in Collezione di opere inedite o rare dei
primi tre secoli della lingua pubblicati per cura della R. Commissione pe’ testi di lingua nelle
provincie dell’Emilia, Bologna 1865, pp. 171-202, in particular pp. 174-175.
The word Chiri may derive from the Byzantine Greek υ ο , α, ον, lord, master, one who
has power, used of the Lord by Christians, and derived from the root υ from υ ο , ου ,
meaning power, powerfulness, authority, which has the variant υ . On the other hand Chiri may
derive from the word υ ία, α , power, control, government. The presence of the letter h is due to
the need to preserve the hard sound of the Greek κ. So this may be the etymon of Chiri, rather than
η , η ί, heart (as in the heart of the palace), as was proposed by DI GIOVANNI, Cronache
siciliane cit., pp. 190, 191, note 4. See also ZORIČ, Arx praeclara cit., in particular pp. 41-42.
MARIO GUIOTTO, Palazzo ex reale di Palermo. Recenti restauri e ritrovamenti, Palermo
1947, pp. 25-36.
See GIANFRANCO PURPURA, “Graffiti di navi normanne nei sotterranei del Palazzo Reale di
Palermo”, in Sicilia Archeologica, anno XIII (1981), n. 44, pp. 43-54.
See LA DUCA, Il Palazzo cit., pp. 118 and 119.
VALENTI, Il palazzo reale cit., p. 516 and p. 520, note 5.
See LA DUCA, Il Palazzo cit., p. 109.
The existence of a doorway in that part of the Palace can be seen in relation to an old
entrance to the city, mentioned in certain documents. The earliest (1187) attests to the sale to Caitus
Joannes, chamberlain to the king, by a monk of the church of Sant’Andrea in Kemonia (which at
one time stood between San Giovanni degli Eremiti and the royal Palace) of a piece of land for the
construction of a stabulo (situm est) in regione ad ingressum Civitatis Panormi, et ad dexteram

ingressus, ex porta Aedificiorum. In this and in another document of the same year, in which the
church of Sant’Andrea is ceded to the Palatine Chapel, the former is named (by Garofolo) S.
Andrea S. Andrea de Bekbene, and Di Giovanni specifies that the Arabic text reads alabna, which
Morso translates as Aedificiorum. So this gate, later destroyed and replaced by the Porta di Castro,
might correspond to the Islamic Bab al-Abna, the translation of which according to Adalgisa De
Simone would be Gate of the Buildings, and not of the young men, as is stated by Amari. See DE
SIMONE, Palermo araba cit., pp. 85-87; SALVATORE MORSO, Descrizione di Palermo antico,
Palermo 1827, reprint Catania 1981, pp. 356-359; DI GIOVANNI, Topografia di Palermo cit., vol. II,
p. 55 e p. 57). In fact other documents from the 13th century onwards attest to the existence near the
fortress of a Porta Palatii (ibidem). The Porta Palatii must have been next to the Palace, and
probably near to its well protected entrance. For the location of the original entrances, see also
ZORIČ, Arx Praeclara cit., p. 62.
The recollections of Ibn Jubayr would appear to confirm the existence of an entrance to the
Palace near the gate of the city: “[...] they led us to the gate joined to the Palaces of the Frankish
king […] they led us in front of his mustahlaf [administrator] so that we could be questioned […]
we passed through piazzas, doorways, royal courtyards […] among other things we noticed an aula
[the Aula verde] where the king is accustomed to eat with his entourage […] Leaving the said
palace we passed through a portico” (quoted in PATERA, L’arte della Sicilia cit., p. 92). So it would
seem that this Andalusian traveller entered the city gate near the Palace and was immediately
received by the royal administrator; he then entered the Palace, passing through the internal
courtyard of the Aula Verde and the emerging towards the Covered Way, which according to
Falcandus began at the Pisan Tower (Vide infra).
See DE SIMONE, Palermo araba cit., p. 87.
Taken from PATERA, L’arte della Sicilia cit., p. 92.
Da PATERA, L’arte della Sicilia normanna cit., p. 98.
Pugnatore saw the last surviving portion in 1583 before it too was demolished. See GIOVAN
FRANCESCO PUGNATORE, L’antichita della felice città di Palermo [Palermo 1583], Palermo 1881, p.
20; DI GIOVANNI, Topografia cit., pp. 401-402.
For the caskets, see SILVIA ARMANDO, “Avori ‘arabo-siculi’ nel Tesoro della Cappella
Palatina di Palermo. La tecnica, la classificazione, le botteghe”, in Medioevo: le officine cit., pp.
UGO MONNERET DE VILLARD, La cassetta incrostata della Cappella Palatina di Palermo,
Roma 1938.
See LA DUCA, Il Palazzo cit., pp. 41-46.
See HENRY BRESC, “L’incastellamento in Sicilia”, and HANS RUDOLF MEIER, “I palazzi
residenziali di Palermo”, in I normanni popolo d’Europa 1030-1200, catalogue of the exhibition
curated by MARIO D’ONOFRIO, Venice 1994, pp. 217-228.
See TRONZO, Il Palazzo Reale di Palermo come esibizione cit.
The Fontana courtyard was probably created in memory of the Aula Verde, as a palace
loggia overlooking the city. It was then closed off by the great Gallery, built from 1600 onwards
(Vide supra, notes 8, 10).
The presence of a gallery linking the Chapel to the residential apartments, at least as regards
the lower levels, has been supposed with regard to the so-called hypogea, with an entrance in the
outer wall of the north ambulatory of the Chapel, rediscovered by Guiotto in 1946 (GUIOTTO,
Palazzo cit., pp. 25-36). Valenti on the other hand supposed that a gallery linking the upper Chapel
with the royal apartments existed where now stands the lower western loggia of the Fontana
courtyard, an extension of the narthex of the Palatine which he himself rediscovered (VALENTI, Il
palazzo reale cit., p. 519).
The concept of the magic box was formulated by William Tronzo in the course of a
conversation which the present writer was delighted to have with that distinguished scholar.

TRONZO, Il Palazzo Reale di Palermo come esibizione cit. To which we may add HANS
RUDOLF MEIER, Die normannischen königspaläste in Palermo. Studien zur hochmittelalterlichen
residenzbaukunst, Worms am Rhein 1994 for its detailed and well thought-out comparisons with
various Ifriqiyan typologies, but also with those of the palatine traditions of Umayyad Spain, of
Constantinople and of the Middle East. See also the introduction by Maria Andaloro to the present
ROBERTO CALANDRA, “Il complesso monumentale”, in Il Palazzo dei Normanni, Palermo
1991, pp. 10-50, in particular p. 19.
FAZELLO, De Rebus siculis cit., p. 370.
MAURICI, I castelli normanni cit., p. 69.
See GUIOTTO, Il palazzo ex reale cit., pp. 5-7.
POLYBIUS, Histories, I, 38, 7-10; DIODORUS SICULUS, Bibliotheca historica, XXIII, 18, 3-5;
See VINCENZO TUSA, “La storia”, in Storia di Palermo cit., vol. I, pp. 148-165, in particular pp.
See ROSALIA CAMERATA SCOVAZZO, “Delle antiche cinte murarie di Palermo e di altri
rinvenimenti archeologici effettuati tra il 19κ4 ed il 19κ6”, in Panormus II, Centro di
documentazione e ricerca per la Sicilia Antica “Paolo Orsi”, Palermo 1990, pp. 95-104; CARMELA
ANGELA DI STEFANO, “Il periodo punico-romano”, in Storia di Palermo cit., pp. 171-178.
CAMERATA SCOVAZZO, Delle antiche cinte cit., pp. 99-100.
We cannot be certain which gate was closed up by Ibn Asan. It is conceivable that the
Norman wall that closed up the Punic gates was in fact the one ordered by Asan to close up the old
gate of Ibn Qurhub (probably named after the first Muslim conqueror of Palermo). In this
hypothesis the gate of Bab al-ryad must have been somewhere else, perhaps a little to the south. The
quotations from Ibn Hauqal are taken from ADALGISA DE SIMONE, Descrizione di Palermo di IBN
HAWKAL, in Palermo araba cit., pp. 115-128.
DE SIMONE, Palermo araba cit., p. 87; MAURICI, I castelli cit., p. 69.
CALANDRA, Il complesso monumentale cit., p. 16.
Ibid., p. 17.
Vide supra, note 3.
Da PATERA, L’arte della Sicilia cit., p. 98. See also IDRISI, p. ι: “In the highest part of this
PROCOPIUS, De bello gothico, I, 5, 12-16; DI GIOVANNI, Topografia antica cit., vol. 2, p.
373 e p. 391; FERDINANDO MAURICI, “Dall’assedio vandalo alla conquista musulmana”, in Storia di
Palermo cit., vol. II, pp. 25-26.
Qasr gives us the word Cassaro. See Cronaca di Cambridge in AMARI, BAS, p. 287; DE
SIMONE, Palermo araba cit., p. 83 e p. 118.
Historia Theodosii Monachi Epistola in CARUSO, Bibliotheca historica regni Siciliae cit., p.
See MAURICI, I castelli cit., p. 69.
Vide supra, nota 23.
See AMATO DI MONTECASSINO, Historia Normannorum cit., p. 141.
AMATO DI MONTECASSINO, L’ystoire de li Normant et La chronique de Robert Viscart par
Aimè, Mont-Cassin, Champollion-Figeac (Jacques-Joseph, M.), Paris 1835, pp. 295-296.
Anonimo Vaticano, in CARUSO, Bibliotheca historica regni Siciliae cit., vol. II, pp. 741-780,
Italian translation by MAURICI, I castelli cit., p. 70, note 10.
GUGLIELMO APULO, Gesta Roberti Wiscardi, in MAURICI, I castelli cit., p. 70, note 11.
It might derive from the Arabic galqa (walled place) rather than from halqa (circuit), but in
substance there is no great difference. See DE SIMONE, Palermo araba cit., p. 85, note 24;

GIROLAMO CARACAUSI, Arabismi medievali di Sicilia, Centro di studi filologici e linguistici
siciliani, Palermo 1983, pp. 236-237.
GOFFREDO MALATERRA, De rebus gestis Rogerii Calabriae et Siciliae Comitis et Roberti
Guiscardi Ducis fratris eius, III, XLV, Rerum Italicarum Scriptores II, vol. 1, ed. E. Pontieri 1928.
Ibid., III, XXXII.
Ibid., III, XXXI.
See especially FALCANDO, supra.
See JEREMY JOHNS, La nuova “Carta della Sicilia” e la topografia di Palermo, in Nobiles
Officinae cit., vol. II, pp. 15-24.
The map has an idealised representation of Sicily, shown as circular, the only indentation on
its coast being the Cala, the ancient port of Palermo. Sicily is in practice almost entirely filled by
Palermo, a city which by synecdoche the Arabs often called Siqilliya.
In particular, the references to the walls of the Harat al-Saqaliba (quarter of the slaves, then
Harat al-Qadi and Seralcadi in Norman times, now “il quartiere del Capo”) and to its construction,
about 40 years before the time of the compiler (but certainly after the visit of Hauqal in 973), have
made it possible to date the treatise to the first quarter of the 11th century.
See RODO SANTORO, La fortezza del Castellammare in Palermo. Primi scavi e restauri
(1988-1994, Fronte sud-ovest e “Torre Mastra”), I parte, Accademia di Scienze Lettere e Arti di
Palermo, Palermo 1996, pp. 52-54, fig. 46; DE SIMONE, Palermo araba cit., p. 88.
ROMUALDO II GUARNA, Chronicon, ed. by CINZIA BONETTi, Cava de’ Tirreni 2001, pp. 15ι-
Da PATERA, Le arti della Sicilia cit., p. 91.
The chronicler in fact speaks of a palace in the city, whereas later he speaks explicitly of the
Alhisiana (from al-Hisn, fortitude), identifiable as the castle of Favara, and later he locates in the
orti regali another “palace, the walls of which are covered with silver and gold”, which might
indeed be the Zisa.
See AMARI, BAS, vol. I, p. 66.
MEIER, Die normannischen cit.
See ZORIČ, Arx praeclara cit., pp. 35 e 44-45.


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