Over the centuries, Sicily was ruled by successive waves of conquerors, each one leaving their mark on the island’s architecture, culture, and cuisine. A perfect example of this blend of cultures is the Palermo Cathedral, a fascinating patchwork of Norman, Arabic, Gothic, Baroque, and Neoclassical architectural styles.
The Palermo Cathedral (also called Santa Maria Assunta or simply the Duomo) was begun in the late 12th century under Norman rule, and was expanded and renovated over the subsequent six centuries. Today, the imposing church is a striking mix of architectural elements, making it one of the most unique in Italy. The interior contains tombs of several members of the Sicilian royal family; the treasury’s collection of religious art, objects, and vestments; and the crypt with sarcophagi from the Roman era.
Because of its rich history and complex architecture, the Palermo Cathedral is best visited with a guide as part of a small-group or private tour. Most walking tours of the historic center of Palermo include a visit to the Cathedral along with other attractions like the Royal Palace and the Massimo Theater. Otherwise, you can join a hop-on-hop-off bus tour and explore the church and other sights independently.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Walking tours of Palermo largely take place outdoors, so wear sunscreen and a hat in summer.
- You will be doing a fair amount of walking if you’re joining a tour of the historic center, so wear comfortable footwear.
- The Palermo Cathedral requires modest attire that covers the knees and shoulders.
- The main part of the church is accessible to wheelchair users; however, the crypt isn’t.
How to Get There
The Palermo Cathedral is located in the city’s historic center within walking distance from the port and train station. You can reach Sicily from mainland Italy by ferry, train, or plane.
When to Get There
Sicily can be uncomfortably hot in summer, so try to visit the island in spring or fall. The second week of July, the city holds its annual U Fistinu festival, featuring processions, fireworks, street food, and music.
The Crown Jewels
The highlight the Palermo Cathedral is the 13th-century crown of Queen Constance of Aragon, crowned Queen of Sicily in 1209 and Holy Roman Empress in 1212. The crown was entombed with Constance’s body in 1222; in the 18th century, the tomb was opened and the crown was removed so it could be displayed in the treasury.