Monreale (Sicilian: Murriali) is a town and comune in the province of Palermo, in Sicily, Italy, on the slope of Monte Caputo, overlooking the very fertile valley called "La Conca d'oro" (the Golden Shell), famed for its orange, olive and almond trees, the produce of which is exported in large quantities. The town has a population of approximately 30,000, and it is located 15 km (12 mi) south of Palermo.
After the occupation of Palermo by the Arabs in 831 the Bishop of Palermo was forced to move his seat outside the capital. The role of the new cathedral was assigned to a modest little church, Aghia Kiriaki in the village nearby which was later called Monreale. After the Norman conquest in 1072 Christians got back the old city cathedral. Probably this role as temporary ecclesiastical centre played a part in King William II's decision to build here his famous cathedral.
The town was for long a mere village, and start its expansion when the Norman Kings of Sicily chose the area as their hunting resort, building here a palace (probably identifiable with the modern Town Hall).
Under King William II the large monastery of Benedictines coming from Cava de' Tirreni, with its church, was founded and provided with a large asset. It is noteworthy that the new edifice had also an important defensive destination. Monreale was the seat of the metropolitan archbishop of Sicily, which thenceforth exerted a large influence over Sicily.
The Cathedral of Monreale is one of the greatest extant examples of Norman architecture in the world. It was begun in 1174 by William II, and in 1182 the church, dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, was, by a bull of Pope Lucius III, elevated to the rank of a metropolitan cathedral.
The church is a national monument of Italy and one of the most important attractions of Sicily.
The archiepiscopal palace and monastic buildings on the south side were of great size and magnificence, and were surrounded by a massive precinct wall, crowned at intervals by twelve towers. This has been mostly rebuilt, and but little now remains except ruins of some of the towers, a great part of the monks' dormitory and frater, and the splendid cloister, completed about 1200.
The latter is well preserved, and is one of the finest Italian cloisters both for size and beauty of detail now extant. It is about 2200 m², with pointed arches decorated with diaper work, supported on pairs of columns in white marble, 216 in all, which were alternately plain and decorated by bands of patterns in gold and colors, made of glass tesserae, arranged either spirally or vertically from end to end of each shaft. The marble capitals are each carved with foliage, biblical scenes and allegories, no two being alike. At one angle, a square pillared projection contains the marble fountain or monks' lavatory, evidently the work of Muslim sculptors.
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