La Martorana

sights / Religious

La Martorana information

Palermo , Italy
Piazza Bellini 3
donation requested
Opening hours
8.30am-1pm & 3.30-5.30pm Mon-Sat, 8.30am-1pm Sun
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On the southern side of Piazza Bellini, this luminously beautiful, recently restored 12th-century church was endowed by King Roger's Syrian emir, George of Antioch, and was originally planned as a mosque. Delicate Fatimid pillars support a domed cupola depicting Christ enthroned amid his archangels. The interior is best appreciated in the morning, when sunlight illuminates magnificent Byzantine mosaics.

In 1433 the church was given over to an aesthetically challenged order of Benedictine nuns – founded by Eloisa Martorana, hence its nickname – who tore down the Norman apse, reworked the exterior in a fussy baroque fashion and demolished most of the stunning mosaics executed by Greek craftsmen, replacing them with the gaudy baroque ornamentation of their own frescoed chapel. The few remaining original mosaics include two magnificent portraits, one representing George of Antioch, crouched behind a shield at the feet of the Virgin Mary, and one of Roger II 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 the Greek Mass is still celebrated here.