The Cloister in Monreale, and the entire Cathedral complex it belongs to, was built by will of a good man. Chronicler Riccardo di San Germano described the structure as representing “life and strength of the people; deliverance of the miserable, the poor, the travellers; stronghold of workers”.
The man behind the project was William II, King of Sicily from 1166 to his death in 1189. Dante mentions him in the “Paradise”, describing God’s love for him: “Ora conosce come s’innamora / lo ciel del giusto rege, e al sembiante / del suo fulgore il fa vedere ancora” (“now he knows / How well is lov’d in heav’n the righteous king, / Which he betokens by his radiant seeming” – meaning God loves the good king so much that his light becomes brighter).
Built starting in 1174, the Cloister of Monreale is one of the most refined Romanesque buildings of the 12th century, and one of the best preserved in the world. It has a square layout – each side measuring 47 meters – and pointed arches around the portico, upheld by outstanding paired columns decorated with arabesques and mosaics. In the middle, a fountain shoots water from a column sculpted like the trunk of a palm tree.
According to Guillaume Durand, a French bishop who lived in the 13th century, the cloister is “an image of Heaven, where our heart will be at one in the will and love of God”.
For William II of Sicily, called “the Good”, and for the many faithful who visited it, this cloister was a little taste of Heaven.