On a side of the Tyrrhenian coast, dominated by an massive cliff, Cefalù show to its visitors the charm of the ancient historic center with its narrow streets overlooked by elegant noble palaces. You can visit its beautiful cathedral built by Frederick II, the medieval wash house, the remains of the temple of Diana placed on the rock overlooking the town or stroll through its typical streets, The characteristic seaside village with its old houses overlooking the sea, to then enjoy the long beach of fine sand. You can also find the medieval washhouse; the water fills the washhouse through 22 “cannoli”.
The Cathedral, a masterpiece of Norman art, which dominates the entire town, commissioned by Roger II and enriched inside with splendid mosaics, it is so large that historians assumed that another capital would be built around it, perhaps a new Palermo.
Cefalù strikes for its charm, given mainly by its wonderful Romanesque cathedral that emerges from a tangle of narrow streets and from the various medieval elements kept here, starting with those present along the slopes that go from the Rocca to Corso Ruggero, an area including small and suggestive streets and arches.
The medieval wash house
From Corso Vittorio Emanuele, going down a stone staircase with a spiral shape, you enter the medieval wash house, where in ancient times their clothes were washed. The ladies used the continuous flow of water to ensure their hygiene, so rare in the Middle Ages.
The water fills the washhouse through 22 “cannoli” made with an animal shape. The fountain take the water from a source that a plaque, placed on one of the pillars of the entrance, indicates as the Cefalino river. The arch-vaulted structures were built in the 1655. The water flows from 22 artistically worked pipes and, after having crossed the wash-house, reaches the sea through two openings made in the short arched vaulted tunnels.
The most important monument of the city, the cathedral, is of Norman origin. According to the legend, the noble Roger II ordered its construction in order to say thanks to God who saved it from a storm by making him land in Cefalù. This superb construction founded in 1131, is a striking figure that dominates the whole surrounding area.
After the death of the noble Roger II, the church pass trought a phase of decay and the consequent got lost the will of its patron to make it a Norman pantheon, but fortunately it has not lost, over the centuries, its charm and beauty, even if we can deduce that its original structure was never completed.
The facade is preceded by a square terrace called “turniale” and set between two strong square towers which made it a fortified structure. This similarity with a fortress is also fueled by the presence of a battlements in its southern part and the frequent tunnels and passages that connect the various parts of the building.
The façade is then completed by the presence of the “Panittera”, which offers fakes loggias and a central ogival window, and by the portico made by Ambrogio da Como and which has three arches with ribbed vaults supported by columns. This unique and superb portal was built in the 15th century. The Regnum Gate is enriched by the presence of white marble carvings and had the original function of protecting the side paintings.
The church has a Latin cross shape plan, that is divided into three naves with columns and capitals in the Sicilian Norman style. The transept has a higher elevation than the naves, even if the original project provided for an even greater height.
In the presbytery the splendid mosaics assume the most remembered and representative role of the church and of which the decidedly more imposing figure stands out, the Christ Pantocrator present in the apsidal basin and who has a blessing hand and the other holding the Gospel open on a specific page containing the famous phrase that identifies Christ as the reference light for his followers.
Its representation is similar to that of other island churches, such as that of Monreale. Among the other mosaics set in the presbytery of the church we remember the praying Virgin at the center of four archangels, and again figures of Apostles, Evangelists, Prophets and Saints. Finally, in the cruise there are the representations of four Cherubim and four Seraphim. The various mosaics, dating back to 1148 – as evidenced by an epigraph present here – were excellently executed by Byzantine artists who were able to combine this ancient oriental decorative tradition with a different logistic reference and clearly Nordic appeal.
The 15th century fresco dedicated to the “Madonna with Child” is splendid, and the funerary monuments are important, worthy of note is the “Madonna and Child” made by Antonello Gagini in 1533.
Mandralisca Municipal Museum
it is a farsighted creation of the nineteenth-century patron Enrico Pirajno di Mandralisca (1809-1864), a baron with an eclectic culture and many interests, a scholar of malacology, ornithology, paleobotany and botany, archeology and numismatics.
When not politically engaged in the Sicilian first and national Parliament. He did not fail to buy, even some finds from the excavations of Tindari (Me). The result of this collection is a historical, naturalistic, archaeological museum, supported by a library of about seven thousand volumes, which still bears his name today.
It is divided into various sections:
The Archeology section
It presents some artifacts found during excavations carried out largely in the area surrounding the city of Cefalù and in the Aeolian Islands.
Beautiful is a Krater, a bell-shaped vase, 28 centimeters high, intact, with yellow figures on a black painted background. In the main part it represents a man with a naked torso covered at the waist only with a cloth. The man is bald with little hair and a sparse beard repainted in white: he is in the process of cutting a Tuna on a three-footed stump, with a large single-edged knife (makaira). On the ground, there is another whole Tuna, next to the man there is another senile figure with a thick, black beard and cap, wrapped only in a Sajo that covers him from the shoulders to the thighs he holds, a slice of Tuna and a stick tortuous, gnarled, while offering a coin that is seen in the palm of his hand for the purchase of lead. On the other side of the vase are two cloaked figures, one of them with a stick.
Vase in the shape of a fantastic animal, the body entirely configured in the shape of a pig with a rooster’s beak and human eyes. On the back a countersink hole; Entirely covered in black paint, with the beak, eyes and wings overpainted in red and white. Due to the technique, it is probably one of the oldest “Magenta ware” due to the characteristic production of overpainted ceramics.
the Numismatic section
there you can admire an almost complete series of Liparote coins. Thanks to his work of collection, cataloging and conservation, the world, Italian, Sicilian and Liparese archaeological heritage has been maintained and protected until today.
The Library where we find a large presence of over 7000 books that have not only cultural but also historical interest as it is also possible to contemplate the sixteenth century and two incunabula.
The Pinacoteca collects important works of art and is very rich. The works preserved in it span a historical period ranging from the 15th to the 19th century. The most famous work is a painting made by Antonello da Messina and called “Portrait of the Unknown”.
A small oil on panel – The painting was bought by Baron Mandralisca in Lipari, where it is said that it was mounted as a door in a pharmacy cabinet. Perhaps in Lipari, there were no barons and not even many wealthy owners; the sea has always been civilization and an economic resource, and the unknown could really have been a sailor.
In the sixties of the fifteenth century Antonello da Messina definitively matured acquisitions and experiences of Flemish figurative culture, from Van Eyck to Petrus Christus, experiences that determined works such as the portrait of the Mandralisca Museum.
The minor churches
other sacred monuments perhaps less known than the Norman Cathedral shine in Cefalù. The Church of S. Biagio, has a structure born from the merger of a church of the same name with that dedicated to the Saints Crispino and Crispiniano. The church is located a short distance from the famous wash house and has a chapel with a gabled roof. Inside there is an altar preserved in a small room and a fresco depicting the Virgin.
The church dedicated to S. Sebastiano next to the church is the Convent of S. Maria del Monte Carmelo. The church is remembered above all for its simplicity. Its main feature is the presence, inside, of four niches containing sacred images dedicated to St. Sebastian, St. Teresa, St. Joseph and a wooden crucifix and a canvas depicting the Madonna del Carmelo surrounded by the prophet Elia and St. Alberto.
Another town church is the one dedicated to S. Oliva built in 1787 near the stream of the same name. The church is very simple and has a very humble façade containing a portal with a round arch. Inside there are two frescoes, the first dedicated to S. Oliva Vergine and martyr and the other dedicated to the Virgin of Sorrows.
Church of Maria SS. della Catena or dell’Addoloratela, the construction of which was completed in 1780. About ten years later the Collegio dell’Addolorata was built to house women in need. The Church has an eighteenth-century façade known for the loggia supported by pillars and flanked by two niches containing two lithic statues. A third niche houses the statue dedicated to the Madonna. The external framework of the structure is completed by the bell tower which foresees the presence of two clocks installed at the end of 1800. Its interior has a very simple layout with a single nave and without apse and transept and remembered above all for the presence of a dedicated statue in S. Espedito and a shrine dedicated to San Rocco, the patron saint of the city.
The current Church of Purgatory is one of the few examples of the city baroque and has a façade enriched by the presence of figures of souls in purgatory, frames and masks. Inside this sacred structure is preserved the Chapel of the Crocifis.
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