Friday, April 5, 2013

What it's like to visit the Cappella Palatina

There was one thing I knew I had to see while we were in Palermo in March: The Cappella Palatina. I can't tell you for how many hours, in how many classes, I studied this chapel. Wikipedia can give you all the facts about it, so I'd like to describe what it's like to visit it.

First, it's difficult to find. Palermo seems to be undergoing a lot of construction right now, and it took us about an hour to track down the chapel and its entrance. (Tip: it's at the back of the Norman Palace, not in the front where all the parking lots are!)

But then we arrived. And honestly, I teared up a little when we stepped inside.

Because the Cappella Palatina is that kind of beautiful. You don't have to be religious to appreciate the all-over sensory experience this chapel creates. You don't have to believe in another world to experience it's absolute otherworldliness.

To describe it like walking into a jewelry box doesn't quite do it justice either.

Because the entire time you're visiting your brain can't quite grasp the the interior of an entire edifice is gold. The walls appear to melt away and dematerialize before you (which is exactly what they're supposed to do).

And the ceiling! Oh, the ceiling. I fantasized about getting on a forklift and inspecting it up close.

And then, you stand right beneath a wall and look up, and are reminded that these images - with incredible depth and rich colour - are in fact made of tiny tesserae. The littlest of mosaic tiles.

Little bits of stone and ceramic have never looked so much like paintings as they do here. And to imagine the technologies and methods artisans were working with in the twelfth century makes the Cappella Palatina a truly magnificent achievement.

On a lighter note, I had a lot of fun explaining to Mike all of the stories those little stones were arranged to tell. What each facial expression conveyed, what each gesture meant. I love deciphering what the confusing language of those symbols meant to Medieval viewers, working out how the designers took advantage of every curve and angle of the chapel's interior, and finding the rhythms and connections of each storyline.

But it's even more fun when you get a space like this to yourself.

To my utter delight, Mike and I found ourselves entirely alone in this chapel during our visit in March. Just he, I, and nearly a millennium of history.

I'll never forget it.

- Jess


  1. Oh wow. How cool that you could experience it all on your own. That makes the experience even more special!


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