Saturday, January 7, 2017

Zodiacs, Peacocks, and the Fountain of Shame

   Today was our first full day in Palermo. We made it! Viva italia ! Our breakfast of cream and chocolate filled croissants were the perfect way to cure our jet lag. Today we went to the Palazzo Della Ziza, the Palazzo dei Normanni, San Giovanni degli Eremiti, the Palermo Cathedral (the duomo), and the Fontana Pretoria. It was a day filled with the history of Palermo, focusing on the Byzantine, Arab, and Norman influences . And as the title of this posts suggests, there were also zodiacs, peacocks, and a fountain of shame.
     Our first stop, the Ziza Palace, was built by a Norman ruler, William the First. The palace was a marvel of ancient architecture. There were ventilation shafts on either side, built to channel cool air around the palace during the inferno that is a Sicilian summer.( I found this a bit hard to believe as I braced the cold in my five pairs of socks watching the snow spiral down on our tour guide. ) We saw multiple bowls, one of which was decorated with a combination of ornate Arabic script and symbols of the zodiac. In the center of the palace there was a channel for running water, another method to keep the palace cool. Surrounding it were beautiful mosaics depicting archers and peacocks. Unfortunately one of the best pieces of art, a tomb stone with writings in Greek, Hebrew, Latin and Arabic, is currently on loan in Spain. Next was the Palazzo dei Normani which includes the Palatine chapel.
     Gold, gold, gold. The chapel was breathtaking. The floor to ceiling were covered in golden mosaics. They depicted bible stories, Jesus, and a countless number of saints. It was a remarkable feeling to be standing on mosaic covered floors that were over 800 years old. This chapel had been built by the Normans to help the Pope spread Christianity in Sicily. To sum up this experience someone asked me because I love art history, "Alyssa are you going to cry yet? Because if you don't I will."
    Inside the Palazzo dei Normani were more fabulous things, including a Hercules room, the East Asia room and several mosaics imitating those we saw in Ziza with archers and peacocks. Here I learned that peacocks are symbols for immortal life. Next we visited San Giovanni degli Eremiti.
     The church had very few remaining frescoes. Those that were left depicted Saint John and the black Madonna. From our previous experiences we could imagine what the interior had looked like covered in beautiful frescoes. The cloister was the most picturesque spot, as many of our Instagram pictures of the day will prove.
     In the duomo, the Palermo Cathedral, we saw the signs of the zodiac yet again. This time they were laid out on the marble floor with a bronze line crossing through them. A small hole on the ceiling projects a ray of sunlight on the line, marking the day of the year. It was a fantastic zodiac sundial. There was so much more in the cathedral, but if I continue describing it we'll be here all year.
   Finally we ended our day at the " Fountain of Shame." The Fontana Pretoria was given this name by the nuns who thought the fountain was outrageous because of its many nude statues of Roman gods and goddesses. Sadly the statue of my favorite goddess, Diana, was missing her head. All in all it was an extraordinary day. Sorry for the long post, if you couldn't tell I've been majorly geeking out over seeing all these works of art history in person. Buonanotte!


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