03 03 2014 Back

La Martorana

Palermo's most famous medieval church is La Martorana (Chiesa di Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio; Piazza Bellini 3; admission free; (Sam- 1pm & 3.3o-S.30pm Mon-Sat, 8.30am- 1pm Sun). It is one of Palermo's foremost churches and is constantly busy with the business of weddings (always scheduled late morning and usually on Saturdays).
This 12th--century structure was the brain• child of King Roger's Syrian Emir, George of Antioch, and was originally planned as a mosque. The Greek artisans employed to decorate it brought their own Christian vision to the stunning mosaic interior. Delicate Fatimid capitals endlessly repeating the name of Allah support a domed cupola depicting Christ enthroned amid his archangels.
In 1433 the church was given over to a Benedictine order of nuns, founded by Eloisa Martorana (hence its nickname), who tore down the Norman apse, reworking the exterior in a fussy baroque fashion and adding their own frescoed chapel at the expense of some of the wonderful mosaic work. Fortunately two of the original mosaics to survive are the portraits of George of Antioch, crouched behind a shield at the fee of the Virgin Mary, and the one of Roger Il receiving his crown from Christ (the only portrait of him to survive in Sicily).
Mussolini returned the church to the Greek Orthodox community in 1935, and totally in keeping with the decoration, the Greek Eastern-rite Mass is still celebrated here.