It is located on the slope of Monte Caputo, overlooking the very fertile valley called “La Conca d’oro” (the Golden Shell), a production area of orange, olive and almond trees, the produce of which is exported in large quantities. The town, which has a population of approximately 39,000, is about 7 kilometers inland (south) of Palermo, the regional capital.

Monreale forms its own archdiocese and is home to Monreale Cathedral, a historical Norman-Byzantine cathedral, one of several buildings named in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a group of nine inscribed as Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral of Cefalù and Monreale. Most of the tourists come here for the cathedral. Me, visiting it, it seriously messed up my numbering of cathedrals. I am no longer sure if St John’s Co-Cathedral in Malta is still taking place no.1.

After the occupation of Palermo by the Arabs (the Emirate of Sicily), the Bishop of Palermo was forced to move his seat outside the capital. The role of a cathedral was assigned to a modest little church, Aghia Kiriaki, in a nearby village later known as Monreale. After the Norman conquest in 1072, Christians took back the former Palermo cathedral. Probably the village’s role as a temporary ecclesiastical centre played a part in King William II’s decision to build a cathedral here.

Monreale was a small village for a long time. When the Norman Kings of Sicily chose the area as their hunting resort, more people and commerce came to the area after the royalty built a palace (probably identifiable with the modern town hall).

All that pilgriming – and one gets hungry. If you will ever be in Monreale, I recommend you to eat at Il Giardino Degli Aranci. It is worth every penny, at least if not for the food than for the view.

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