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Palermo Cathedral, Sicily

Palermo cathedral was built in 1185 by Walter of the Mill (Walter Ophamil), who was archbishop of Palermo. It has strong Arabic influences, reflecting the prominent architecture of the time, but has been modified and added to over the centuries. It was being built at the same time as the cathedral at Monreale, but never had the richness of interior decoration that Monreale has. There is a 13th century mosaic of the Madonna and child over the main entrance, but the inside is mainly 18th century baroque. Typical of this style is the ornate marble and stone inlay work, and marble floors. There is a set of signs of the zodiac in opus sectile work, as part of a heliometer. This dates from 1690, and is a type of sundial. A small hole in the ceiling projects a spot of sunlight which travels across the floor with the movement of the sun through the sky. At noon each day, the spot crosses a meridian (a line running north-south) below the hole. In midsummer the sun is higher, so the spot crosses towards the south end of the line, marked by Cancer, the crab. At the north end is the midwinter sign, Capricorn. As the sun's annual path takes it through the zodiac, the other signs show the point where the spot crosses the meridian at that time of year. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge the pictures or browse pages.

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