Saturday, October 23, 2010

Monreale II

Monreale II

The Norman-built Duomo of Monreale

View of Palermo from a safe distance

Immense mosaic of Christ above altar

Detail of one of the column caps, no two the same

Mosaics on side of vault showing beginning of bible story

Some lovely folks from California moved into the apartment downstairs from us for a week and in the course of a conversation, persuaded us to come with them to see Monreale (our first visit to which, faithful readers will recall, had been a dud).  Loathe to drive there again, we agreed to take the train from Casteldaccia to Palermo, a city bus to the main transfer point and another city bus to Monreale, just 7-8 kms south of Palermo.

We drove to the local train station and boarded the clean, prompt, electric train exactly on time and were whisked quietly to the Stazione Centrale in Palermo. After only slight confusion, we procured tickets for the bus and managed to get on the right one for the second leg of the trip. We transferred to the second bus and in the crush, Reg wound up sitting in the front while the rest of us were in the rear of the bus. No sooner had she sat down than a scuffle broke out in front of her and four British tourists who were getting on the same bus were swarmed and robbed by four men. The bold assailants removed the wallet from the inside pocket of one man’s jacket and the other man caught one of them with his hand in his shirt pocket. When he yelled, the thieves denied everything, threw the wallet on the floor and quickly left the bus. The driver calmly closed the bus doors and off we went while the Brits assessed what had happened and related it all to Reg.

Nervously clutching valuables  (Paul had already lost one wallet in Rome), we rode the bus to the end of the line which turned out to be in front of the Duomo at Monreale that we had been unable to find on our first try. I know, I know, another church. But they all are rather special and this one was no exception. Built in 1176 by the Norman William II, it contains the most extensive and extraordinary area of Christian medieval mosaic work in the world. Erected in only 10 years in competition with William's arch rival down the hill in Palermo, the speed of its construction led to a rare uniformity of style throughout the church. The walls are completely covered in mosaic on a gold background illustrated with pictures that basically tell the story of the bible for the illiterate masses. The figure of Christ inside the dome over the altar is immense with the head and shoulders alone being almost 20 feet high. Truly stunning and in near-perfect condition.

Eventually, we emerged, blinking into the sunlight, explored the markets, had a lovely Calzone and beverage for lunch, bought tickets for the return bus at the Tabacchi (they sell tickets for nearly everything in Italy) and started off home. This time, excitement arose when we stopped in an alley just before our destination and four men in blue suits swarmed on the bus, blocking all exits. They turned out to be ticket inspectors, as the young lady beside us knew all too well. She immediately jumped to the automated ticket validator and tried to shove one of a sheaf of tickets into the machine. An inspector stopped her and after considerable shouting, slapped her with an on-the-spot 60E fine. It wasn’t enough to have a ticket, it had to punched by the validator. Happily, our nearly illegible tickets passed muster and we disembarked hastily at the station. Tickets from the booth, short stroll to track two of ten, board train, escape from Palermo. The train tickets were 2.60E and the bus tickets were 1.30E so huge fines have the effect of encouraging most riders to pay up on what is fundamentally an honour system with spot-checks.

Time to stretch out on the terrace with a nice glass of Porto Palo (2.60E at the market around the corner), my Kindle and the afternoon view of the mountains.


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