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Situated on a natural terrace overlooking the Conca d'Oro, Monreale is world famous for its magnificent Cathedral, a masterpiece of Norman architecture in Sicily. The town developed itself around the cathedral of Santa Maria La Nuova and the Benedictine monastery. Founded in 1174 by Guglielmo II and completed in just a few years the Duomo di Monreale shows extraordinary mix combining Arab, Classical, Norman and Byzantine elements.
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The basilica's interior is even more astonishing. Gorgeous 12th century Byzantine mosaics on gold background cover almost all the aisles’ walls. Famous for its perfect acoustics, the Monreale Cathedral hosts the annual Settimana di Musica Sacra (Holy Music Week), a series of symphonic and choral concerts, usually held during the second half of November and attended by internationally renowned artists and orchestras. On the right side of the cathedral stands a 13th century cloister, remains of the ancient Benedictine abbey and a garden courtyard with an oriental fountain which is still in use today.
Monreale's historic center is enriched by numerous churches and religious buildings. Among them, the monuments of the complex William II, which date back to the 12th century and also include the Church of Santa Maria degli Agonizzanti, decorated by Serpotta in the 18th century.
During the same period, the Collegio di Maria di Monreale, which is located on the opposite side of the Cathedral, was founded with an aim to educate girls in need. It was the first institution of this type in Sicily. There used to be a convent including several other buildings, a cloister and the Chiesa della Trinità. The church has an original octagonal structure and a beautiful interior decorated with frescoes and topped by a large central dome.
The church ''della Collegiata'', dedicated to the cult of the miraculous Santissimo Crocifisso (SS. Crucifix) was built in the 18th century and was an extension of a chapel in the old Carrubbella quarter. Columns and marble floor decorate the three-nave interior and the largest tile panel in Italy, representing the SS Crucifix, can be admired on the outside wall. All these are the work of an unknown Palermitan ceramist.
Festivities, which involve the whole city, are held from the 1st to 3rd of May to celebrate the feast day of the patron saint of Monreale, SS. Crucifix. Street celebrations, shows and folklore events end with the evening procession of the saint’s statue illuminated by candles, lit by true followers of the religion.