Three weeks on Sicilia. Uncounted Baroque buildings, ancient ruins, mosaic tiles, cliffs and nature. You tend to believe that you have seen everything.
Then you reach Monreale.
Where to look first? At the ceiling! And the biblical stories that spread in golden mosaic over the main nave. Ahead of the storyboard, sunlight falls through high windows, embracing the oversized Jesus in gleaming colours.
I let my eyes wander along the inner walls and it is like reading a delicious comic version of the bible. There are Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and all legends of the Christian scripture. My favourite series show the embarking of the ark, where people and animals gather together in that tiny mobile home.
Hard to tell which facet wins the excess of attractions: Richness? Artistry? Storytelling? I dare to say that the composition of it all is unique.
Monreale is not just an architectural leftover, representing glory days. It is a well-used church, with praying nuns among the tourists and with a fairy tale wedding the very same afternoon. It is a pity that some of the tourists show a profound lack of sensitivity when visiting a holy building in funny raincoats. (Note from the author: Some people consider themselves being clever using a knee-long raincoat as “decent clothing” to cover bare shoulders and legs inside the church. Just guessing, but they might have sources in a North-Western land, separated from Europe by the Atlantic ocean.) I look at Jesus in the cupola and think he probably dislikes it as well.
I crisscross through the cathedral, admiring everything around. A part to the left is virtually separated from the rest by an additional entrance control. No extra fee gets charged, yet the control works as a filter that separates interested visitors from others.
Art and beauty is almost exaggerated here and it begins at the feet: Stone mosaic covers the ground with a certain base pattern, but inch by inch with different interpretations of it.
The beauty in this aisle exceeds the main nave and it is on the edge of being overloaded.
I wave goodbye to Ezechiel and the other prophets as I turn towards another ticket counter in the rear part of the church. For some Euros extra, I enter a narrow staircase that leads up and left and straight and up until the corridor spits me out on a small platform. The cathedral, the view on Palermo and on the landscape, the cloister beneath – once more I stare around, stunned with beauty.
With entry charge and the dark, tiny stairs that lead up here, few other tourists reach the small balcony. The access only works for a small percentage of visitors: those who are curious. And slim.
While the stromboli has been the outstanding highlight of our trip, Monreale is the perfect conclusion to it.
Palermo, right around the corner of Monreale, will be a good reason for future visits on this wonderful island. For this afternoon, I am fine with the choice of cafés around the (now closed) cathedral, spending my time lazily until it is time to get Hector on the ferry.