The Royal Palace of Palermo (also known as the Norman Palace) is located in the oldest part of the city, on a Punic settlement located under the Sale Duca di Montalto (The Duke of Montalto Halls).
During the Arab domination, the first section of the palace was built between the Kemonia and Papireto rivers, and called Qasr, an Arabic word that means castle, or fortress with high military significance. With the arrival of the Normans in Palermo, in 1072, reconstruction and extensions were begun. In 1130, after the coronation of Roger II of Hauteville, the fortress became a royal palace and the nerve center of power. Inside the palace there was a Norman mill and a textile workshop for production of artifacts of unique beauty. The courts of Roger II, William I and William II succeeded in the miracle of bringing together very different cultures and successfully mixing them.
Frederick II of Swabia, son of Henry VI Hohenstaufen and Constance de Hauteville, continued the policy of his grandfather Roger II and, though he stayed at the palace only when he was young, it was here that he organized administrative and cultural activities (School of Poetics Sicilian).After a period of abandonment during the Angevin and Aragonese dominations, the Royal Palace regained its prestige under the Spanish viceroys in the second part of the 16th century. New architectural elements, of both military and hosting functions, including the two main courtyards and the Maqueda Fountain, were built.
The Bourbons of Sicily rebuilt the Royal Palace, and commissioned new decorations for the Sala d’Ercole (Hercules Hall), a space that is now used for meetings of the Sicilian Regional Assembly.
After his coronation in 1130, Roger II ordered the construction of the Chapel of the Palace. It is an architectural and decorative encounter of different cultures and religions, with Byzantine, Islamic, and Latin workers employed.
The church, dedicated to St. Peter the Apostle, has a design in which Latin and Byzantine elements coexist, creating a unique architecture enhanced by mosaic decorations. The dome is dominated by an image of Christ Pantocrator, which is repeated in the central apse. The oldest mosaics illustrate important episodes of the Gospels, and are on the wall to the right of the main apse. In the aisles, likely decorated under William I, events from the life of St. Peter and St. Paul, and the central scenes of the Old Testament are depicted.
Of particular value is the marble candelabra placed at the pulpit. Moorish craftsmen executed the muqarnas ceiling, with a fine and rare pictorial cycle linked to the Muslim tradition. It is a structure made entirely of wood, with stalactitic and alveolar elements. The inscription in Latin, Greek and Arabic was made in 1142 in memory of the water clock commissioned by Roger II, and is now on the wall to the left before the entrance to the Chapel. It illustrates the interweaving of cultures and civilizations in Norman Palermo. The mosaics of the front entrance were commissioned by Ferdinand III of Bourbon at the beginning of the 19th century.
The double entrance doors, in walnut with inlays and reliefs, were made by the Sicilian sculptor Rosario Bagnasco in the 19th century.
Sala di Ruggiero
This Hall is named after Roger II. The beautiful mosaic decorations were commissioned by his son, William I. The mosaics, of a secular nature, represent a unique depiction of phytomorphic, zoomorphic and anthropomorphic elements (hunting scenes and allegorical emblems of Norman power). The table, located in the center of the space, is a fine piece of neoclassical furniture, made from a section of petrified sequoia.
Sala dei Venti
This is one of the most picturesque rooms in the Royal Palace. Set in a medieval tower of the Arab-Norman nucleus, called Joharia, and in front of Roger’s Hall, it is now covered by an 18th century wooden ceiling in the center of which stands the rose of the winds.
Sale Duca di Montalto (Duke of Montalto Halls)
In proximity to the main staircase, before arriving in the Maqueda Courtyard, you enter the Sale Duca di Montalto, painted in the first half of the 17th century by the most talented artists of the time, including Pietro Novelli, to transform the original rooms into the summer audience hall of Parliament.
After excavations in 1984, traces of the ancient Phoenician and Roman walls of Palermo, dating from about the 5thcentury B.C., came to light on the lower floor of the rooms.
Since 1947, the Sala d’Ercole is the place where members of the Regional Assembly of Sicily gather. It takes its name from the a series of paintings dedicated to the mythological Greek hero, and was completed in the early 19th century by Joseph Velasco (called Velasquez). The regional parliament (ARS) exercises legislative power provided by the Statute of Sicilian autonomy. It was the first Italian parliament, and is one of the oldest in Europe.