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  • Day115

    Admiral's church

    February 19, 2019 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    Like the bridge, this is another gift to Palermo from the Syrian-Greek adventurer George of Antioch. This guy fronted up to the ambitious Norman King Roger II after being in service to the North African Zirid Sultan, Tamim ibn Muizz. Before you know it he commanded the Sicilian navy, such as it was.
    The word "admiral" comes to us from them, derived from the Arabic title “emir al-bar,” roughly translating to “chief military commander of the sea.”
    He was pretty successful, (for example capturing the Byzantine island of Corfu and establishing a Norman colony on the coast of modern-day Tunisia,) and used this success to build and donate the Matorana to Palermo. As is often the case, he overreached himself trying to capture the whole Byzantine Empire, and died in 1151 or 1152 in the Aegean (1151 or 2).
    Naturally the official name is the Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio.
    Although fire destroyed much of the original work, about half has been preserved or restored for us to see how richly decorated it must have been. Traces of the mosque out of which it was made can be seen. In the photo the 2nd story screen would have separated female from male.
    Today the Martorana is home to the Italo-Albanian Catholic Church. Italo-Albanians, called the Arbëreshë, migrated to Sicily and Southern Italy in the late Middle Ages as the Byzantine Empire slowly disintegrated. The Arbëreshë church’s adherence to the Byzantine rite means that masses in the Martorana are held in ancient Greek, the same as when the church was founded 800 years ago.
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