Grand Journey – A Tale of Two Duomos

palsunriseAfter a short night of cruising, we arrived in Palermo. As you can see from the photo above, we were greeted with a glorious sunrise.

I took an excursion that visited the duomos of Palermo and Monreale while Mr. McB chose to explore the city on his own.

There was a general strike in Palermo and our tour guide was very keen to get us on the bus, to the cathedral in Palermo, and on our way before the inevitable traffic jams clogged up the route to Monreale. She was also very annoyed when people were looking out the windows at the teenagers who were gathering in the streets since she felt that we couldn’t look at them and listen to her at the same time. At one point she told us that she would not speak again until all eyes were on her. I understand that her job isn’t easy but I don’t think any of us deserved to be treated like children. She presented a lot of information but didn’t seem to be terribly personable. She said we were the last tour of the season so maybe her frustration was caused by fatigue and the inconvenience caused by the strike.

On the way to the church, we passed the quattro canti or four corners. This monument features statues representing a season, king of Sicily, and former patron saint of Palermo. There are 12 statues in total. Below you’ll see winter, King Philip III, and St. Agatha. You’ll also see the tiniest delivery truck which is ideal for navigating little Sicilian streets and alleys.

palquattroOur driver had to do some creative motoring just to get to the duomo. We parked around the corner and were greeted by the two corner towers that are part of the church. The towers were built in the 14th and 15th centuries but given a facelift in the late 1700’s.

pal_towersAround the corner, we spotted the church itself. This large cathedral was built in 1184 on the site of a former mosque which was built on the site of a former basilica. Like the towers, the church had a number of renovations and is a mix of architectural styles.

palcathedralThe Duomo of Palermo has a boat parked in the front yard.

palboatThe ship of salvation is used as part of the parade held on Saint Rosalia’s feast day. In life, Rosalia was a beautiful aristocrat who refused a marriage proposal, became a hermit, and devoted her life to serving God. She died in a cave at Mount Pellegrino. Centuries later when the plaque hit Palermo, a soap maker visited Mount Pellegrino, found Rosalia’s remains and had a vision that she would bring an end to the plaque if he would return her remains to Palermo for a proper burial. After some initial resistance, the church agreed. Following the funeral procession and burial, the spread of the plaque ceased. After saving Palermo, Rosalia replaced those four saints that grace the quattro canti as the city’s patron.

palrosaliaRosalia’s remains are housed inside the cathedral in the silver urn. Before the guide told us what was inside, I thought this looked like a massive chaffing dish. Clearly, I’m an American protestant.

The inside of the cathedral of Palermo is very lovely and ornate. The guide discussed some of what we were seeing but everything was hurried a little because we needed to get on the road and she thought that Palermo’s cathedral was rubbish compared to what we would see in Monreale.

pal_insidecathThe painting on the ceiling represents the ascension of the Virgin Mary.

pal_jesusHere’s another shot of the same scene that showcases the royal throne.

pal_cathedralI wish I knew what this blue thing was but again, our guide wasn’t really helpful when it came to talking about things in this church. I tried research this but cannot find an answer. If you know, please leave me a comment.

pal_primemeridanThese zodiac signs are part of the church’s heliometer. There is a tiny hole in the ceiling that allows the sun’s ray to illuminate the appropriate sign at noon. It may seem like an odd thing to see in a church but the purpose was to standardize the measure of time and dates. This was especially important when calculating the dates of Lent and Easter.

palpriestThis tomb belongs to Father Giuseppe “Pino” Puglisi. Father Puglisi ministered in Brancaccio, a rough area of Palermo and was an outspoken opponent of the mafia. In response to his opposition, two powerful mafia bosses ordered a hit on the priest who was gunned down outside his church in 1993. The 56-year-old became a martyr of the Catholic church and was beatified in May 2013. More than 50,000 people attended the ceremony.

This is one part of the cathedral where our guide took more time to talk. She spoke of the good works of this man and the tragedy of his death. On my last visit to Sicily, I took the “Godfather” tour and saw the very romanticized side of the Mafia mystique. This was a stark reminder of what the mob really is.

After walking back to the bus, we started the trip to Monreale located on the slope of Monte Caputo. After reaching the parking area, we walked up the steps to reach the cathedral. There is a taxi option for those who cannot navigate the steps. The cabs cost roughly $5 and can take up to five people.

After ascending the steps, we saw the cathedral from the outside. Our guide was very quick to tell us that we should not judge the church by its exterior.

pal_onetowerThe tower on the left was struck by lightening and has not been restored.

The Muslims took control of Palermo in 831. During this time they built a mosque on the site of the duomo (see above) and banished the Bishop. After reclaiming Palermo about 240 years later, William II thought it would be a good idea to build a church to show how thankful the Normans were to be delivered from occupation. Monreale’s duomo began in 1174 and according to our guide took 17 years to complete. Other sources state that the church was finished in 1182 or 1185. The important take away is that the construction work went very quickly because the church was built by a collaborative of Islamic, Byzantine, and Norman craftsmen. Each group brought their own touch to the church resulting in a very unique blend of architectural styles.

palmoncathoutsideWe gathered under the portico where the guide tried to prepare us for what we were going to see inside the duomo. The church features 68,000 square feet of mosaics featuring more than 400 kilos of gold.

palmonlargeSince most church goers could not read, these mosaics were their Bible. Above the arches, you can see the story of the creation and Noah’s arc.

palmon2More arc scenes

palmonceiling The ceiling in a section of the church closer to the main altar.

pal_monbottomMosques do not include human imagery and do not depict Allah in human form. You can see the contribution of the Islamic artisans in the image above. There are geometric shapes and a row of stylized palm trees which represent paradise.

palmon

New testament stories and Islamic palm trees

palmontallpalmoncandlesThe altar

palmonorganThe duomo’s organ

palmonchristChrist Pantocrator or ruler of all
This is church’s focal point.
Christ’s nose is one meter long.
His head and bust are roughly 25′ tall.
The distance between his hands, better seen below, is 46′.

palmonaltarMonreale was truly amazing. I’ve seen lovely mosaics before but they were nothing like what I saw in this church. The fusion of the styles and the sheer number of scenes was very striking. I admit to a little sensory overload just trying to take it all in. I was able to pick out most of the Bible stories. Some of the other scenes are symbolic and relate more to Catholic saints or the Norman kings.

We were given about 45 minutes to explore Monreale one our own. We were there on a Friday which seemed to be a pretty busy market day.

palmonstreetI ran across this small church, very different from the duomo, with its doors open and altar lit.

palmonotherchurchI continued to follow the winding streets and take in the little village.

palmonbldgpalmon_cityscapeBefore heading back to the bus, I followed the guide’s advice and stopped in at Panifico in the square across from the duomo and picked up a bag of almond cookies that would sustain us during our big Roman adventure the next day.

Before writing about Rome, I still need to cover the rest of the day in Palermo. Look for another post in the days to come.

Grand Journey – Palma de Majorca

palma_fishermenOn Nov. 12, we docked in Palma de Majorca. Palma is Majorca’s major port and is the capital city of Spain’s Balearic Islands.

Mr. McB decided to take a half-day excursion to Valledemossa, a small town in the Tramuntana mountains. His photos and recap of the excursion can be found on his blog. I wasn’t excited about this, or any of the other excursion options, so I decided to see Palma on my own.

There were free shuttles from the port to the town. I did experience some difficulty in finding the bus and most of it was my own fault. In Valencia, it was impossible to miss the signage. Palma’s port authority decided to post people in the terminal to guide you to the shuttle; but, they were standing with the people who were trying to sell you things so I put on my “New York eyes” and walked by them without saying a word. I wound up with a lot of other confused folks and a pack of cabbies who were eager to get fares. With some persistence, some other cruisers and I got rerouted and eventually found the free shuttle. In no time at all, we were standing across from Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma or more commonly known as La Seu Cathedral.

la seu cathedral There is some conflicting information about when construction of the cathedral began. Some sources state that the head stone was laid in 1230 after King Jaime I promised that he would build a cathedral in honor of the Virgin Mary if he and his crew were saved from a terrible storm in 1229. The official booklet distributed by the cathedral states that construction began in 1306 under orders from King Jaime II. The structure was built on the site of a former mosque and for this reason, it faces Mecca instead of Jerusalem. Construction was completed in 1601.

On the way up to the cathedral, I found an alcove with a small pond where these cygnets were swimming with their parents.

palma_cygnetI might have hung around to take more photos but my fear of birds did not mesh well with Mr. and Mrs. Swan’s protective posturing so I kept walking to the entrance to La Seu.

the portal mayor la seu cathedral palma de majorcaThese photos are of the Portal Mayor or the “Great Door” on the west side of the structure. In the center you will find the immaculate conception surrounded by 15 symbols of femininity that refer to Mary. The interesting thing about this door is that as massive as it is, it isn’t thick enough to be soundproof. Later, as I stood at the rear of the cathedral, I could hear the carriage rolling by.

palma_doorAdmission to the cathedral was six euro. Instead of audio guides, visitors were given guidebooks. After viewing Flemish tapestries and some lovely silver pieces, I made my way into the massive temple. Yes, it seems odd to refer to a Catholic church as a temple but that’s the term used in several places including the official guide.

palma_cathedrallightpalma_lightscathedralI arrived just as the cathedral was opening for visitors so I had the luxury of enjoying a few minutes when the space was almost empty. As you can tell, it’s enormous. There are three naves with the central nave soaring at 144 feet making it one of Europe’s tallest cathedrals.

After taking in the size, I was struck by the light. There are more than 95 windows including two facing rose windows that cause beautiful sprays of light to fall on the stark sandstone walls.

Twice a year, on Feb. 2 and Nov. 11, there is an “eight of light” when the multi-color image of the main rose window is superimposed on rose window on the opposite side causing the window to appear to glow and the colors to become even more vibrant.

palma_laseulongviewpalma_laseusideSmall chapels line the walls.

palma_holyfamilycathedralThe nativity is found in the Chapel of Saint Benedict.

la seu cathedral palma gothic altarThe old Gothic altar piece now hangs over the Portal del Mirador or the lookout door. It was Antoni Gaudi‘s decision to hang the piece here. More on Gaudi in a bit.

palma cathedral llit de la mare de deu mortaThis image of Mary is found in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Crown of Thorns. When the church celebrates the festival of the Assumption, the figure and the life-sized angels that surround her are moved to the central nave.

Now let’s move to the apses.

palma_modernnaveThis is the most modern of all the apses. Located on the right side of the church, the redesign of this nave was completed in 2007. Designed by Miquel Barcelo, the design incorporates elements of the sea (fish, eels) and the earth (fruit). The figure in the center represents the Risen Christ. The design is very different from the other elements in the church. Without the guide, I would have thought that this was Gaudi’s contribution to the building.

We’ll visit the other side before focusing on the central apse.

lleft nave at la seu in palma This is the Baroque-style Corpus Christi. At the very bottom you can see Jesus being judged by the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate. Above this, you’ll find a depiction of the last supper. As you continue up, there are depictions of Abraham and the wandering angels, the sacrifice of Isaac, and Melchizedek. You’ll see a closeup of the Last Supper below.

palma_lastsupperIt is in the central apse that we see Gaudi’s major contribution to the building. He completely reworked this area. He removed the choir stalls and removed two altar pieces that hid the Bishop’s throne. He pushed the altar toward the congregation and added the crown-shaped canopy or baldachin.

gaudi's baldachin in palmaThe bishop and other church officials wanted to see models of Gaudi’s work. Since he did not have a lot of money, he constructed most of the canopy from paper and cardboard. One source even states that dried pumpkins were used in the piece. The church and Gaudi did not agree on the vision and the artist was let go. The canopy that hangs in this glorious cathedral is still the same paper model from the early 1900’s.

Outside the main temple, works of art are displayed in the Gothic and Baroque chapter houses.

gothic chapter house in the palma cathedralGothic chapter house

palma_crucifixA beautiful crucifix in the Baroque Chapter House. In this area there is also a golden reliquary that is said to hold a piece of Christ’s actual cross.

After a stop in the gift shop, I headed out to walk around town a bit.

palma_christmasI saw that Palma was also hanging Christmas decorations in mid-November. I guess we Americans deserve a little break since we aren’t the only ones decorating early.

palma_placadecortThis is Palma’s Ayuntamiento or town hall; it was completed in 1680.

palma_angelaWere they expecting me? This was a tie shop.

palma_marketThis is the Placa Mayor or big plaza. The plaza dates back to the mid-1800s. The area previously housed the Casa Negra or House of the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Despite the fact that Jews and Christians have lived happily in Palma for many decades, things changed with the inquisition. There were forced conversions and much worse. The Casa Negra was destroyed in 1820 after the end of the inquisition. For more on the inquisition and Palma, read this page. The plaza now houses a Burger King and open-air market. Incidentally, I’m listening to Slacker and “Always Love” by Nada Surf just came on. “Hate will get you every time.” Can’t think of more appropriate words at this time.

After walking around town for a bit, I decided to tour the Palacio Real de la Almudaina. This fortified palace started out as an Arab fort. It was claimed as a royal residence in the 1300s. King Jaime II ordered changes to the building including the addition of a chapel to Saint Ann.

palma_cathedralfrompalaceAs you can tell from this image, the palace is adjacent to the cathedral.

palma_palaceThis is another shot of the palace. There were no photos allowed on the inside. At nine euro for admission (14 if you wanted the audio guide), I can’t say that I would recommend this stop. It’s interesting but not as interesting as some other stops might have been. I regret picking this instead of the art museum that is quite close.

After touring the palace, I enjoyed a bite on the benches near the cathedral. I met McB when he got into town after his excursion. We enjoyed the scenery for a bit and then he toured Palma while I went about my day.

palma_seaparkParc de la Mare

I continued walking down through an area that looked like an old fortification. I thought I would end up at the Arab Baths but instead, I wound up running into a tourist that was either too cheap or confused to visit a proper bathroom. He was standing in the corner of the fort relieving himself. I saw this man and his wife earlier in the day and heard them speaking English. I’m not sure why his wife didn’t warn me about what I was about to see. I decided to head back to the main street for a different view.

palma_laseuoutsiderearpalma_artHere’s a view of our ship. We’re the smaller ship on the right beside one of the vessels from the Costa line. You know, that Costa line…

palma_shipsI took the bus back to the ship. I grabbed a dish of ice cream (Frangelico ice cream yummy) before retiring to our veranda for a relaxed look at the city and marina.

1palma_harborWe had reservations at Red Ginger, one of the specialty restaurants on the ship. Since the reservations were at 8:15, we had plenty of time to explore the shops and other parts of the ship.

1palma_mapMr. McB found the giant map.

1palma_mpPosing before dinner

Red Ginger was quite crowded when we arrived. After just a moment, we were seated and pored over the menu, not that this was the first time we studied it.

The meal began with an amuse-bouche of steamed edamame. The server also put a small pill on a plate and then poured a bit of boiling water over it. The pill puffed upward and became this little towel so we could remove the salt from the edamamae from our fingers.

1palma_magictowelI am nine years old so this was magical and very exciting to me. I proceeded to break our server’s heart by telling him that I did not want chopsticks for my meal. He took the glass box of beautiful chopsticks back to the kitchen and I felt a pang of guilt.

1palmasummerThe photo above is my appetizer. It is a summer roll filled with pomello (grapefruity citrus fruit), basil, and toasted coconut. McB had chicken satay.

I had the spicy duck salad with watermelon, basil and cashews. It was delicious but not terribly photogenic since it is served on a dark plate in a dimly lit restaurant.

1palma_teaatredgingeroceaniWe both had special tea. M chose traditional green tea while I had orchid and vanilla. It smelled like candy and was quite tasty.

1palma_lobsterpadthaiWe chose the same entree, the lobster pad thai. Holy moly, that’s really all you can say about this. My mouth is watering as I look at this photo. The flavor was light and delicious.

1palma_bountycakeI ended the meal with the bounty cake. It is a delightful mix of vanilla, coconut and chocolate. McB had the lemongrass and chocolate creme brulee. He didn’t love it but with a belly full of other delicious treats, he was satisfied.

We spent the next day cruising the Mediterranean. Look for more in my next post.