The Norman Castles of Sicily

The Normans conquered Sicily from the Saracens in the 11th century. The Emirate of Sicily had ruled the island for more than 250 years from their capital Palermo.

The Norman forces were made up of mercenaries with a fierce fighting tradition which included service during the Crusades .They too made Palermo their capital and occupied the Saracen palazzo there before making it their own . It is today called the Palazzo dei Normanni.

It took the Normans more than 30 years to subjugate the Saracens who they then relied upon to help run the affairs of the island . The Arab population and their descendents continued to make up a majority of the population. Given their small number the Norman’s policy towards their subjects was a tolerant one, although over time Arabic as a language and Islam as a religion slowly disappeared particularly as other European dynasties such as those from Spain took over.

But given their relatively short rule of the island – which only lasted about 100 years-the Normans have left a substantial legacy, notably the large number of fortresses and cathedrals which are still here today, particularly around the north west and north eastern coastlines.

Norman fort in modern day Paterno
Norman fort in modern day Paterno

Among the most notable are the fortresses at Caccamo , Nicosia ,Sperlinga , Aci Castello Adriano, Motta Sant ‘ Anastasia and Paterno in the north east.

The Norman rulers , in particular Roger the 1st and his son Roger the 2nd , also erected some beautiful cathedrals in Palermo and Cefalu, a medieval city an hour east along the coast, and embellished them with beautiful mosaics and designs borrowed from both the Byzantine and Saracen eras.

The private chapel of Roger the 2nd in the Palazzo dei Normanni is the Capella Platina and was built between 1132 and 1143 . It is still regarded as the artistic gem of Palermo . The entire chapel is covered in outstanding Byzantine mosaics.

Link study guide : The Normans