La Zisa, Palermo
La Zisa is inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The name comes from Arabic aziz meaning magnificent.
Interior of the Zisa Palace. Note the muqarnas over the door.
Muqarnas (the honeycomb structure) is a very common element of Islamic Architecture. It is a form of ornamented vaulting, the geometric subdivision of a squinch, or cupola, or corbel, into a large number of miniature squinches, producing a sort of cellular structure, sometimes also called a "honeycomb" vault.
Muqarnas developed around the middle of the 10th century in northeastern Iran and almost simultaneously — but apparently independently — in North Africa. Examples can be found across Morocco and by extension, the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, the Abbasid Palace in Baghdad, Iraq, and the mausoleum of Sultan Qaitbay, Cairo, Egypt.
Large rectangular roofs in wood with muqarnas-style decoration adorn the 12th century Cappella Palatina in Palermo, Sicily, and other important buildings in Norman Sicily.
Muqarnas may be made of brick, stone, stucco, or wood, and clad with tiles or plaster. The individual cells may be called alveoles.
But step now into the hall of the palace. At once you are in a different world. Nowhere does Norman Sicily speak more persuasively of the Orient; nowhere else on all the island is that specifically Islamic talent for creating quiet havens of shade and coolness in the summer heat so dazzlingly displayed. The ceiling is high and honeycombed, the three inner walls set with deep niches, roofed in their turn with those tumbling stalactites so dear to Saracen architects. All around, zig-zagging in and out of the niches, runs a frieze of marble and multi-coloued mosaic, broadening out in the centre of the back wall into three medallions in which, against a background of exquisite decorative arabesques, confronted archers are busy shooting birds out of a tree, while two pairs of peacocks peck dates, with studied unconcern, from conveniently stunted palms.
(John Julius Norwich: The Normans in Sicily, p 600)
UNESCO’s World Heritage List
Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale (Italy) - new on the list (2015)
Located on the northern coast of Sicily, Arab-Norman Palermo includes a series of nine civil and religious structures dating from the era of the Norman kingdom of Sicily (1130-1194): two palaces, three churches, a cathedral, a bridge, as well as the cathedrals of Cefalú and Monreale. Collectively, they are an example of a social-cultural syncretism between Western, Islamic and Byzantine cultures on the island which gave rise to new concepts of space, structure and decoration. They also bear testimony to the fruitful coexistence of people of different origins and religions (Muslim, Byzantine, Latin, Jewish, Lombard and French).
- Palazzo dei Normanni (The Norman Palace)
- Cappella Palatina (The Palatine Chapel in the Norman Palace)
- Church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti
- Church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio (also known as the Martorana)
- Church of San Cataldo
- Cathedral of Palermo
- The Zisa Palace (La Zisa)
- The Cuba Palace (La Cuba)
This is the earthly paradise that opens to the view; this King is the Musta’iz (The Glorious One), this palace the Aziz.
(Part of William II's inscription (in Arabic) round the entrance arch. As quoted by John Julius Norwich in The Normans in Sicily. Musta’iz (The Glorious One) was used only by William II)
Detail of one of the mosaic decorations over a niche with a fountain in the Norman Palace La Zisa in Palermo.
Jean Paul Barreaud:
Chiesa della Santissima Trinità (also known as Cappella SS Trinita)
Next to La Zisa, there is a small Norman church called Chiesa della Santissima Trinità (Via G. Whitaker, 42, 90138 Palermo), built in the second half of the 12th century.
The muqarnas in the ceiling structure of the Norman Chiesa della Santissima Trinità alla Zisa (aka Cappella palatina della Zisa).
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