Cities of the Norman worlds


Palermo was captured by the Normans in 1072, but the total submission of Sicily only came twenty years later. After being personally involved in the first phase of the conquest, Robert Guiscard had then entrusted its completion and the government of the island to his brother Roger (count of Calabria and later of Sicily from 1060 to 1101). But Roger the Great Count kept his capital at Mileto in Calabria. Palermo only regained its earlier status under his son Roger II, who had himself crowned king there in 1130, after receiving the succession of the elder Hautevilles.

After this, Palermo came in for a great deal of attention from the new monarchy. The sovereign encouraged its role as a commercial and cosmopolitan capital, embarking upon an ambitious construction programme.
The palace of the Arab emirs became the palace of the Norman kings, with notable modifications, including the addition of two towers, the Pisan Tower and the Greek Tower, on either side of the central building, the Joharia. The services of the court, the treasury, the mint, the guards and prisons were housed there, as were the royal workshops in the Moslem tradition. Churches were also built in the central districts, foundations of the king like San Giovanni degli Eremiti (1143-1148), or of his high dignitaries, like Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio, the work of the emir (admiral) George of Antioch in c. 1140. But the jewel in Palermoís crown was the Capella Palatina, synthesizing eastern and western influences.

Roger IIís successors continued his policy of prestige, notably building pleasure palaces surrounded by gardens. The finest example in the Palermo area is the Zisa, a large building commissioned by William I (1164-1170), perhaps to house the harem. A summer residence had already been built quite close to the town, the Favara (1130-1154), surrounded by a park, which was a hunting reserve. In the heart of the city, building work on the cathedral, where the royal throne was kept, was resumed after the mid-12th c., while on the outskirts, the Monreale was something of a royal sanctuary

previous page  The Normans in the Mediterranean  next page