Norman influence in Italy covered the Mezzogiorno from Sicily to the frontier with the Papal States, south of Rome. The architectural heritage of churches, abbeys, forts and princes' residences, offers a wealth of monuments erected in the late 11th and throughout the 12th century. An abundance of documents makes it possible to suggest a chronology of these monuments with a precision such as would be unthinkable for north-western Europe. Whether they have come down to us in their pristine state or after various transformations, their being so remarkably akin stylistically earns these monuments a special place in the Norman world in Europe.
While all of southern Italy is representative of this heritage, one's attention is drawn in particular to two otherwise widely differing regions, Molise and Sicily.
Sicily was the heart of the Norman Empire, the centre from which the Norman kings exercised their power, and also the place where the process leading to a syncretism of Byzantine, Arab and Norman influences materialized – as the great writer Benedetto Croce puts it, the "first work-of-art State".
Molise is less familiar to the general public but its frontier location gives it a special identity and a singular historical role. Dotted with numerous castles and other defensive works which are particularly well preserved, it is a province with long unsuspected possibilities for study and research. The Norman influence on the religious architecture in Molise is counterbalanced by the abiding attraction for the prestigious monastery at Montecassino.
Thus the monuments of Sicily and Molise need to be compared with those of Campania, Apulia and Calabria the better to gauge the originality of each of the provinces of the Norman kingdom.