The Martorana Also Co-Cathedral of St. Mary of the is characterized by the multiplicity of styles that meet, because, with the succession of centuries, it was enriched by various other tastes in art, architecture and culture.
The name Ammiraglio (“admiral”) derives from the founder of the church, the Greek admiral and principal minister of King Roger II of Sicily, George of Antioch. The foundation charter of the church (which was initially Eastern Orthodox), in Greek and Arabic, is preserved and dates to 1143.
In 1193, a convent of Benedictine nuns was founded on adjacent property by Eloisa Martorana. In 1433 this convent absorbed the church, which has since then been commonly known as La Martorana. The nuns extensively modified the church between the 16th century and the 18th century, making major changes to the structure and the interior decoration.
The nuns of the Martorana were famous for their moulded marzipan, which they made in the form of various fruits. Although the convent no longer exists, frutta di Martorana are still one of Palermo’s most famous and distinctive foodstuffs.
Today, it is used by the Italo-Greek Catholic Church for their services and shares cathedral status with the church of San Demetrio in Piana degli Albanesi.
The original church was built in the form of a compact cross-in-square (“Greek cross plan”), a common south Italian and Sicilian variation on the standard middle Byzantine church type. The campanile, still serves as the main entrance to the church. Significant later additions to the church include the Baroque façade which today faces onto the piazza.
Certain elements of the original church, in particular its exterior decoration, show the influence of Islamic architecture on the culture of Norman Sicily.
The church is renowned for its spectacular interior, which is dominated by a series of 12th century mosaics executed by Byzantine craftsmen. The mosaics show many iconographic and formal similarities to the roughly contemporary programs in the Cappella Palatina, in Monreale Cathedral and in Cefalù Cathedral, although they were probably executed by a distinct atelier.
The nave dome is occupied by the traditional Greek image of Christ Pantokrator surrounded by the archangels St Michael, St Gabriel, St Raphael and St Uriel. The register below depicts the eight prophets of the Old Testament and, in the pendentives, the four evangelists of the New Testament. The nave vault depicts the Nativity and the Death of the Virgin.