Sicily under Byzantine Influence


       During 6th century AD Eastern Roman Empire (commonly known as Byzantium) tried to recover as much as possible from the collapsed and dismembered Western Roman Empire. 

       Fighting back Vandals, they recaptured Sicily making it in 535 a Byzantine Province. The new rulers found there “fertile grounds” because they brought back to island what indeed was never lost - Greek’s culture (and language) with “ingredients” of Western Roman influence.

In a way, taking the control of Sicily after the “century of darkness”, Byzantium did not act as a conqueror but rather as promoter of continuity….

The move was so successful that some hundred years later Emperor Constantine 2nd considered relocating his capital from Constantinople to Syracuse (his death put end to this plan).  

Christian catacombs near Buscemi - It all started this way...

Cathedral Monreale: Christ Pantocrator  (Byzantine mosaics)

Catherdal Monreale is an example of Byzantine influence in Sicily over the following centuries

Monreale: Cloister in Cathedral's Monastery

       During the following centuries the growing power of Muslims (Arabs) united under the “wings of Islam” started to heavily weight on fortunes (and misfortunes) of the Byzantine Imperium. In 9th century Sicily was completely controlled by Arabs.

The Sicilian “honeymoon” with Byzantium did not last long. However given the strong roots of earlier Greco-Roman influence as well as Eastern-Flavor of Christianity, the Byzantine culture was still resonating on the island for several more long centuries. It left formidable imprints especially in the architectural style and visual religious art. 

The best examples of Byzantine influence can be seen today in architectural elements (domes) and decorations of Sicilian cathedrals and churches built during Norman times (11th century and up). Palatine Chapel in Palermo’s Royal Castle, Cathedrals in Monreale and Cefalu, church Martorana (Palermo) with their large domes and very rich interior mosaics (Icons) are the best examples of Byzantine religious art. 

Palermo: Byzantine-style mosaics in the Palatine Chapel

Cefalu: Cathedral

Byzantine-style mosaics in the Cathedral of Cefalu (Here once again the favorite icon: Christ Pantocrator)

     The ruins of Byzantine stronghold worth to see (but this time mainly due to their location and views) are on top of the mountain towering Cefalu. As the bonus - on the way up you will find a megalithic structure called Temple of Diana (underground cistern is dated to “pre-historic” times around 9BC, the temple itself to 5th-6th century BC). Climbing the Rock (La Rocca - as the hill is called) you will enjoy breath-taking views on Cefalu and the seacoast.

View on Cefalu's cathedral from La Rocca

On the way to the top of La Rocca - View on the city of Cefalu 

The Temple of Diana (La Rocca) most likely built in during the period of Byzantine period.

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