Since July 3, 2015, the Cathedral is a UNESCO World heritage site, part of the Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalù and Monreale, a series of nine structures dating from the era of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily.
A first church was built in the area in the fourth century. The building is mentioned in a papal bull of Pope Leo the Great in 444 and in a letter to the Sicilian clergy of 447.
In 592, the Bishop Vittore demolishes the church and promotes its reconstruction according to the Byzantine canons. A second church dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary is built on the ruins of the previous one in 604.
Between 831 and 1072, during the Arab domination of Palermo, the church was transformed into a mosque. Following the Norman conquest of the city, in 1072, the mosque was converted back to a Christian church.
The earthquake of February 4, 1169, seriously damaged the bell tower and the upper part of the facade. Interpreted as a divine punishment due to a rampant corruption of the city, the event was used as a pretext for a radical rebuilding of the church.
The cathedral was built by Walter Ophamil, the Anglo-Norman Archbishop of Palermo, during the reign of William II of Sicily, and was consecrated on April 6, 1185.
In the 14th and 15th centuries, the last orders of the four corner towers were built, the construction of the western portal was completed, the altar of St. Peter was erected, Antonino Gambara created the beautiful southern portal and the wooden choir was installed.
In the 16th century, Antonello Gagini built the marble tribune which decorated the central apse, Fazio and Vincenzo Gagini completed the construction of the Northern portal, the clock, by Vicenzo Gagini, was installed in the south-eastern tower and the body of the chapels along the southern aisle was completed.
In the 17th century, the construction of the Chapel of Santa Rosalia was completed, in which is kept the urn with the mortal remains of the Saint, designed by Mariano Smeriglio.
The most important restoration of the Cathedral was carried out at the end of the 18th century, when, on the occasion of structural consolidation, the interior was radically remodeled to a design by Ferdinando Fuga. The work, started in 1781, was supervised by the architect Carlo Chenchi with the assistance of Giuseppe Venanzio Marvuglia, and was completed in the early 19th century.
Following the earthquake of 1823, new interventions were carried out between 1826 and 1835 by the architect Emmanuele Palazzotto.
The main facade, oriented to the West, on the current Via Matteo Bonello, is flanked by two towers and has a Gothic portal surmounted by a niche with a 15th-century Madonna. Two arcades, built over the street, connect the facade to the bell tower.
The southern side has a wide portico in Gothic-Catalan style, with three arcades, built around 1465. The carved portal of this entrance was executed by Antonio Gambara between 1426 and 1430.
The interior has a Latin cross plan, with a nave and two aisles divided by pilasters. In the chapels of the right aisle are the tombs of emperors moved here in the 18th century from their original sites. The crypt, accessed from the left side, is a room with cross vaults supported by granite columns, housing tombs of Roman, Byzantine and Norman eras.
HOW TO GET THERE
The Cathedral is located about 1.5 kilometers away from Palermo Centrale, the main train station of the city. The closest bus station is Bonello – Cattedrale, located about 100 meters away from the Cathedral, on the free shuttle bus Line Arancione (Orange), dedicated to tourists. To reach the church on foot, use the map below.