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Grand Hotel Timeo, Sicily, Italy

Byzantine, Moorish and Norman

After the Romans, the ensuing centuries saw rule by the Byzantines, the Arabs and the Normans. Their eclectic artistic and architectural styles left Sicily festooned with opulent, gold mosaics, Moorish decorative motifs and Norman castles and churches.

At Monreale, in the north-west of the island, you find the most magnificent example of Norman Sicilian architecture. Founded by King William II (known as William the Good because of his clement nature) in 1172, the cathedral’s interior gleams and sparkles with the work of Arab artists, Byzantine mosaicists and Norman craftsmen. Suffused with colour, the site is covered with more than 6,000 sq m of gold mosaics depicting scenes from the Old Testament. It also boasts more examples of Norman sculpture than anywhere else on the island, with 200 slender columns supporting elaborate capitals and Saracenic-style arches. Sicilians say, “Anyone who visits Sicily without seeing Monreale arrives a donkey and leaves a beast” so, for many reasons, make sure not to miss it!

CATHEDRAL OF CEFALU: This imposing Norman duomo, set in the pretty seaside town of Cefalú, was begun in 1131 by King Roger II. Among its remarkable collection of Norman-Byzantine mosaics is a shimmering image of Christ Pantocrator, notable for painstaking details such as wisps of hair on his forehead and fine facial lines.

PALAZZO REALE, PALERMO: Also called the Palazzo dei Normanni, or Norman Palace, this sumptuous building, created during Roger II’s reign, was for centuries the seat of power in Sicily and is now home to the country’s parliament, which means only certain areas are accessible. The Palatine Chapel is a lavish blend of French and Sicilian masonry and Byzantine ornamentation, with dazzling mosaics depicting Biblical and Arab scenes — don’t miss the picnic in the harem — while upstairs in the luxurious royal apartments are medieval murals of hunting scenes. Surrounding the palace are beautiful grounds with fountains, hanging gardens and an imposing, mosaic-clad cupola.

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