Monreale cathedral, Palermo, visiting the most beautiful Sicilian church

Very near Palermo, by the Caputo mountain, lies a place which, unlike the centre of Palermo, is filled with serenity. What lies in front of you is the Monreale Cathedral, in our humble opinion, the most beautiful cathedral on the island. How to get to the cathedral? How much do the tickets cost? What to see inside?

The history of the Monreale Cathedral

The cathedral came to be in 1267, its layout was designed almost a century earlier, in 1172. According to the legend, Wilhelm II, who resided near Monreale, fell asleep under the tree after a long hunting session. The Virgin Mary appeared in his dream vision, telling him to build the church there. Under the same tree gold coins were found, which helped to finance the cathedral.

Monreale Cathedral

A more likely version however, seems to be that the bishop of Palermo, Walter Ophamil, ordered the build, which was then endorsed by the Pope Clement IV.

How to get to the Monreale Cathedral

You can take one of the two main ways: go by bus, starting from the main centre or by car/a taxi. Beware however, when it comes to going by car/taxi, traffic jams are near unavoidable and south Italian drivers tend not to be too welcoming and predictable.

Monreale Cathedral

The bus 389P goes almost all the way to the cathedral from Piazza Indipendenza (the one next to Palazzo Normanni). You’ll only need to walk 500 meters or so. You can buy the tickets in one of the booths, from the driver or the vending machines. There are also parking lots, 300 m away from the church. To get to the cathedral from the centre, you have to enter the SS186 road, leading to Partinico. Monreale is roughly 6 km away from Palermo. You can’t get there by Uber, as there’s simply no Uber in Palermo.

Monreale Cathedral Gardens

Tickets for the Monreale cathedral, opening hours

How much do the tickets cost for Monreale cathedral viewing? Around 4 EUR per person, you can buy them right before the entrance. Children can enter the church for free.

Monreale Cathedral Mosaics

The cathedral’s open from 8:30 to 12:30, then from 14:30 to 17:00 during the weekdays, during holidays, it’s 8 to 9:30, then 14:30 to 17:00.

The cathedral layout and measurements

Upon entering the cathedral, we’re promptly greeted by a renaissance portico and a colonnade. We enter the building through a Barisano da Trani portal, from 1185.

Monreale Cathedral Door
Monreale Cathedral Doors

The cathedral is 102 meters long, 40 m wide and 32 m tall. The layout of the church is a mix of Eastern Catholic and Roman Catholic styles. The inside is separated into three naves, where the middle one is three times larger than the side ones. Each nave is finished by a semicircular apse.

aisle Monreale

When inside, there are three main materials that attract the eye – wood, marble and gold. The floor, walls and the corinthian columns are made of marble, reminiscent of near eastern mosques.

Monreale mosaics
Monreale mosaics

We can see exposed wooden beams on the ceiling, decorated with various textures. On the right side of the apse is a sarcophagus, containing Wilhelm I’s body, who died in 1166, and a marble sarcophagus of Wilhelm II.

Wilhems Tomb Monreale
Wilhems Tomb Monreale


The mosaic in the Monreale Cathedral

The mosaic, measured at almost 6500 m2, is made in a Byzantine style, and was being created from the 12th to the first half of the 13th century.

Monreale Jesus

The top part is covered in golden mosaic, reminiscent of the Byzantine style. In the apse, the figure of Jesus the Pantocrator towers over, with a characteristic right hand gesture. Under him is the Virgin Mary and the celestial mansion surrounding the whole picture.

St mary Monreale

Also, take a look at the beautiful scenes from the Book of Genesis, displayed on the walls, right above the ‘near eastern’ column ends. The colours showcasing the creation of the world or the great flood are like in a comics book.

Monreale Cathedral

The entirety shines with all the rainbow colours, mainly gold with blue and silver elements. When to visit the cathedral? Preferably whenever the sun shines through the main window, opposite to the main apse, in the afternoon.

Monreale interior
Monreale interior

Similar style was applied to Capella Palatina by the Palazzo dei Normanni, described in our Top 11 Palermo attractions.

The attractions of the Monreale Cathedral

There are many interesting buildings and places inside and around the cathedral. We can find the Benedictine monastery, the Archbishop’s Palace or the chapels – St. John the Baptist’s, St. Benedictine’s, of the Cross and the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.

Monreale columns

The Monreale cathedral may not be as big as the Milan one, but it certainly matches its quality, maybe even surpasses it.

The Monreale Cathedral map

Monreale map

  1. The 389P bus stop
  2. Parking lot
  3. Parking lot
  4. Monreale Cathedral entrance
  5. The Archbishop’s Palace
  6. The monastery
  7. The square in front of the entrance

What to see in Palermo? Here’s our top 11 list.


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