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Zoom lecture:
The Kingdom in the Sun: Arab and Norman Sicily
Recorded: 9 Feb 2021
Time: 11 am
Jane Angelini

Mosaic detail from the Norman Palace, Palermo
Mosaic detail from the Norman Palace, Palermo    

Poised between Europe and Africa, midway in the Mediterranean, Sicily has been both a gateway and a crossroads attracting a long line of colonisers from the Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans and Arabs , to the Normans and Spanish. The legacy of so many dominant civilizations produced a cultural mix of great richness and diversity, and included periods of exceptional wealth, intellectual activity and artistic achievement. This lecture looks at the artistic achievements of Sicily during the medieval period : the Arab and then more especially the Norman Kingdom of the 12th century.

In the middle of the 11th  century, at the time of the Norman Conquest, Palermo was one of the greatest commercial and cultural centres of the Muslim world. It was a busy commercial metropolis with over 300 mosques, in the largest of which were the supposed remains of Aristotle. The city was abuzz with markets, exchanges, craftsmen & artisans and all around were parks and pleasure gardens with fountains and running streams, so typical of the Muslim world. In 1072 Palermo fell to the Normans, taken by Roger de Hauteville , or Roger I. 

The impact made by the Normans on Sicily was way out of proportion to their number. Their influence stems from an exceptional adaptability and political skill; they recognised that the Sicilians possessed a superior culture and administration and adopted both, adding an efficiency and purpose hitherto lacking. It was precisely this ability to absorb and mix different traditions, Arabic, North European, Roman and Greek, that became the hallmark of the Norman achievement in Sicily. By using these skills with great acumen Count Roger turned himself from a poor landless adventurer into one of the most successful and famed rulers in the world.

During the 12th century Palermo was the most intellectually active and artistically eclectic centre in Europe; the great cathedrals of Cefalu, and Monreale, the Palatine Chapel of the Norman Palace, and the small church of Santa Maria Dell’Ammiraglio, witness to a brilliant fusion of Norman, Arab and Byzantine art and architecture. 

Length: 1 hour  

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