Sicilia - Places to Visit - Cefalu`
This charming and graceful little town faces the Tyrrhenian sea from a promontory overhung by a huge, rough outcrop of the mountains. Because of its favourable climate and outstanding natural and artistic features, it is counted among the tourist jewels of the Palermo province.
It carries on a flourishing tourist trade, while its other economic activities are fishing and farming. The origins of the place are very ancient, dating perhaps from prehistoric times; there are references from around the fourth century B.C. to a Cephaloedion allied to the Carthaginians in the war against Syracuse.
The placename is obviously connected with the peculiar shape of the rock that gives the town its character. Subjected by the Syracusans, it went through various stages before becoming a satellite of Rome (third century B.C.) In the second half of the ninth century A.D. it gravitated to the Arab emirate of the capital.
Taken over by the Normans (eleventh century) the town grew considerably and had many large buildings added to it; it later became a feud of the powerful houses of Chiaramonte and Ventimiglia. In the second half of the nineteenth century Cefalu` took an active and successful part in the revolt against the Bourbons.
The magnificent Cathedral has the usual structural and architectural characteristics of Norman religious buildings, and is in many ways similar to the Cathedral of Monreale. Begun in the first half of the twelfth century, in the time of Roger II, it took a very long time to build and remained partially unfinished.
A flight of steps leads to the parvis which is fenced and adorned with statues. The superb faade (thirteenth century) is framed between two powerful towers lightened by rows of lancet windows. Its upper part is adorned with small blind arches and interlaced arches in Moorish style.
The lower portico with its ogival arches is from the second half of the fifteenth century and is attributed to Ambrogio da Como. Other outstanding architectural features of the building include the right side, the powerful transept and the triple apse. The monumental interior has the characteristics of a basilica; the nave is divided from the aisles by powerful columns with artistic capitals of Roman and Corinthian type.
These support elegant ogival arches which reveal Arab influence. In the left aisle is a sixteenth century Virgin By Antonello Gagini, while in the right aisle the baptismal font (1100) is of particular interest. The entrance to the transept is through a powerful ogival arcade with colossal columns.
The presbytery is raised and glows with the luminous mosaics in Byzantine style that adorn it. The floor is also mosaic, on it stand the royal throne and the bishop's throne, also enhanced by mosaic inlays. The subjects of the priceless gold-ground mosaics are: in the apse, Christ the Pantocrator in the blessing posture surrounded by the Virgin, Apostles and Archangles, and on the walls of the tribune, series of Patriarchs, Prophets and Saints.
The beautiful adjacent Cloister uses very charming architectural elements, especially the rows of small twin columns sustaining graceful ogival arches. We observe particularly the carvings on the capitals, whish represent fantastic subjects, mythological figures and fights between animals.
The Osterio Magno is what is left of a graceful palace of the Norman period, believed to be the residence of Roger (twelfth century) although some sources suggest that it was constructed later (fourteenth century). Of particular interest are the fine lancet windows of the old building.
The Mandralisca Museum contains valuable paintings of the fifteenth to the eighteenth century; outstanding in the collection is an admirable work attributed to Antonello da Messina, the Portrait of an Unknown Man. There are also fragments of mosaic paving from Roman times, icons in Byzantine style and a large number of finds of archaeological interest from around the town and from Lipari.
In particular we should take note of a Greek mosaic of the second to first century B.C. and the Lipari bowl with a picture of a Seller of Tuna Fish, an important example of Siceliot coins, prehistoric finds, lanterns and other objects of the Greek and Roman ages, vases, clay objects, sculptures, bas-reliefs and Siceliot pottery.
Substantial vestiges remain of the polygonal walls of the ancient settlement, dating from the fourth century B.C. On the rock above the town we can see the remains of a Megalithic construction of the fourth to third century B.C., known as the Temple of Diana.
The coast around Cefalu` is dotted with first class hotels residences and tourist villages. On the mountain slopes behind the town and reachable by a winding road is the Sanctuary of Gibilmanna (seventeenth century), which has a fine altar and a Vigin by the Gagins. The name of the place is a Arab derivation and refers to the presence there of quantities of ash 'manna'.