Our plan for the morning was to visit the small town of Monreale which sits perched on a cliff top above the city of Palermo. Getting to Monreale is quite easy as AMAT Bus 389 departs from Piazza Independenza taking just 20 minutes to the hilltop town.
When travelling on Italian buses it’s necessary to purchase tickets in advance as it is not permitted to buy these from the driver. All Palermo bus tickets cost €1.40 each and can be purchased from tobacconists or newsagents. We were also planning to travel somewhere by bus the following day so we bought 8 bus tickets to save time later as these are undated and just need validating as you board the bus. Bus services are infrequent on this line, being approximately every 75 minutes so plan ahead to avoid wasted time waiting at each end.
It was just as well that we had arrived early as the bus stop wasn’t quite where we were expecting it to be and was actually about 100 metres from the square. Surprisingly for Sicily the bus actually arrived on time but was quite small and already crowded so we ended up having to stand for the entire journey. We hung on for dear life as the bus weaved its way up the hillside navigating the steep hairpin bends. It was approaching 10.30 a.m. as we completed the final part of the journey to the town centre on foot taking no more than 10 minutes.
There were some fine valley views looking down to Palermo with a backdrop of the surrounding hills. It was a hazy morning but even so, the views were still breathtaking. Most visitors flock to Monreale to visit its famous cathedral as it is one of Sicily’s top tourist attractions and one of the greatest existing examples of Norman architecture. Building commenced in 1174 by William II and was completed four years later.
The church is noted for its superb mosaics which cover every available surface. My attention was also drawn to the beautifully painted ceiling and the original marble floor, still in wonderful condition after all this time. Visiting the cathedral is free of charge but tickets are required to climb the tower and to visit the cloisters. A maximum of 350 visitors are allowed in the cathedral at any one time but during our Saturday visit at 11.00 a.m. there were no access problems. I was wearing a sleeveless dress and along with numerous other places of worship that I’ve visited in Sicily, I was not requested to cover my arms.
I would recommend adding a visit to the cloisters to your itinerary as their artistry is spectacular. The cloisters are the most significant remains of the former Benedictine abbey with 26 arches on each of the four sides which open onto the courtyard garden. In one corner there is a fountain with ornamental columns and sculptured decoration on its top.
After leaving the church we explored the small town starting with the town hall which is housed in part of the former royal palace next to the cathedral. Wandering along Monreale’s narrow streets we came across several more elaborate churches and small squares, stopping in one of them for welcome glasses of cool beer as it was at least 30 degrees in the shade.
We returned back down to Palermo by bus and although crowded, we were fortunate to be able to find seats. It was then just a 15 minute walk to our apartment, passing through the Nuova Gate near to the Norman Palace and the cathedral. Surprisingly the city seemed quiet for a Saturday afternoon so we returned to our attractive shady terrace relaxing with cooling glasses of Aperol Spritz.
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