La Ziza Palace
Set in the middle of the Genoardo garden with its prestigious architecture La Ziza palace tells a story, of many people and of a great partnership between Muslim craftsmen and European patrons. Such exchange resulted in the transmission of Muslim architectural knowledge to Europe contributing to its architectural revival. The palace is a fascinating example built by Muslims for Norman patrons in Sicily showing the extent of popularity of Muslim themes during the medieval period.*
Introduction and Background
The Muslim legacy in Sicily has generally received only a small fraction of the attention given to its neighbouring Spain probably because of a comparatively shorter period of Muslim rule there lasting only a little over 200 years and the systematic destruction and concealment of Muslim remains and impact on Sicilian life. For example, from the great city of Palermo and its huge monuments only a handful of monuments still exist there, most of which were built for Christian patrons.
The Muslim rule of this beautiful island was put to an end by the Normans who, taking advantage of the internal disputes between various corrupt princes and nobles, successfully occupied it in 1061 CE. Historical sources highlighted how before their occupation of Sicily, the Normans terrorised Europe and erased any signs of civilisation. The contact they made with Muslim civilisation in Sicily subdued their barbarity and sophisticated their organisation converting them into great builders rather than destroyers.
Experiencing the Muslim high civilisation they found in Sicily, the Normans chose to retain much of the Muslim administration and artistic traditions during their rule which lasted nearly 150 years, from 1061-1194. Roger II (1130-1154), for example, used the Muslim Hijri calendar (AH), made Arabic his official language (in documents and administration), and even called his chief minister Emir of Emirs (Archonte of Archontes). His grandson William the Good (1166-1189), or William II, was known to be an authority on Arabic poetry and according to Dante under his reign Italian poetry was born. Frederick II (1197-1250), the founder of the University of Naples, was so fond of Muslims that he was accused of being a Muslim. His statue in Palazzo Reale at Naples (1888) presented him in embroidered robe with Arabic writing, and the hilt of his sword with the star and crescent insignia, which is a clear indication of his "Islamisation". Norman rulers, especially Roger II and William II, played an important role in integrating Muslim art and architecture in the Sicilian and European art and architecture. The Normans later played a leading part in civilising Europe. Harvey rightly admitted the impact of the contact between the Normans and Muslims as he declared "the re-activating of Europe into a dynamic age stemmed from the cultural explosion which took place when the Normans and the East came into direct contact (in Sicily)".It was no surprise that European architectural renaissance took place in Normandy, the birth place of Gothic architecture. The contribution of Sicily in the transmission of many architectural and art themes to Europe is well documented. Its role in the transfer of the pointed arch has already been highlighted in previous articles, especially the pointed arch or (ACF4FB.pdf).
|Figure 1. Details of the plan of La Ziza Palace|
|Figure 2. General view of the palace showing its main façade with the three gates|
Against this background, one can understand the connection between Muslim art and architecture and Norman architecture. One of the features they admired most were the polychrome and intersecting arches which they used widely. In addition to formal and decorative features, Arabic calligraphy is widely spread in Norman edifices of Sicily. St. John of the Lepers, founded by Roger I in 1072, has Arabic inscriptions appearing on the capital of an angle colonnette in the apse. In Martorama Church (1143-46) a quotation from a Byzantium hymn is inscribed in Arabic below the cupola. This church was founded by George of Antioch who was once a servant of the Emir of Tunis. Ibn-Jubayr in his praise of the cathedral indicated the existence of other Arabesque decoration carved on its main door. In the Palace Chapel or Capella Palatina (1144) the pointed arch is used extensively, and an Arabic inscription appears in a handle on the door of the chancel, while the ceiling of the nave is wholly covered with stalactite, muqarnas, decoration executed by Muslim craftsmen. The muqaranas was executed to appear growing from the wall with two rows of coffered eight angle stars enclosing rosettes fixed in its centre. In the Church of San Cataldo (1161) the battlements are pierced and forked and have their surface carved with a low foliage design imitating many Muslim specimens. In Palermo Cathedral (1185) the architect employed crests in a similar shape to those found in Ibn Tulun Mosque and the west minaret of al-Hakim mosque. At Cifalu Cathedral (1131-1148) the twin towers resemble those of Kutubiya Mosque (Morocco). Above its entrance, a number of intersecting pointed arches were executed in similar fashion to that found in the Great Mosque of Cordoba. The Church of St. Giovanni Degli Eremiti (St. John of the Hermits) (1148) adopted the dome of al-Jayouchi and in another instance, the transition of the dome from the square to the circular plan was achieved by means of semi-circular squinches in a technique similar to those described in Muslim domes especially at A-Azhar Mosque (Cairo) and Qala Beni Hammad.
|Figure 3. Various sections composing the palace|
|Figure 4. Section of the Palace|
The Normans also employed Muslims to build for them luxurious palaces imitating the Umayad and Abbasid palaces. The objective was to create Jannat al-Ard or Paradise of the Earth which was planned on an immense park extending to the south-east of Palermo in which most of these palaces, kiosks and fountains were concentrated. However, in the account of Ibn Jubair palaces were built everywhere in Palermo appearing "like pearls on a young girl's necklace". This brief article looks at the la Ziza Palace or Al-Aziza Palace built between 1166 and 1180 showing the extent of Muslim identity adopted by these Norman rulers.
Architecture of the Palace
The construction of La Ziza Palace was initiated by William I, nicknamed William the Bad (1154-1166) as a summer residence in the centre of the Genoardo park in Palermo, the former capital of Muslim Sicily. His successor William the Good (1144-89), however, completed the edifice in 1180. Built with a rectangular plan in the form of a high tower comprising three floors the palace was equipped with three facades adorned with blind arches incorporating tiers of windows and a frieze inscription. The interior of the palace was ordered symmetrically greatly resembling the palatial configuration developed earlier by the Banu Hammad in Ashir and Qala' .
|Figure 5. Fountain and muqarnas in the central hall of La Ziza Palace|
"The continuation of the palatial style found at Ashir and the Qal'a of the Banu Hammad may most conveniently be traced in the following century in Sicily, where the Norman kings delighted in palaces that were at least as much Islamic as Western".
The main façade of La Ziza is pierced with three arched entrances with the central one being much larger and fitted with double colonnettes supporting the architrave . This is the main entrance leading to an oblong vestibule which gives access to side wings and the central hall. Double lateral corridors separate the central hall from the wing sections which consist of a suite of three interconnecting rooms that were made half the height of the main hall to emphasise the more ample disposition of the central chamber .
Representing the principal feature of the palace, the hall consists of a central iwan rising to the height of two stories . Two lateral niches covered with muqarnas were added casting a majestic atmosphere on the room, similar to that found in Muslim reception halls especially of North Africa. The use of coupled colonnettes on inward corners of the room as well as on its entrance is a Hammadid theme that was employed largely in the Dar Al-Bahr of the Qala'. The back wall of the hall holds one of the most famous and beautiful features consisting of a high canopy of muqarnas . Below it is a set of mosaics in the form of roundels incorporating figures of affronted archers in the central roundel and peacocks on either side of a date palm, which "seem to mirror in a more durable medium the textiles which might once have graced the walls of these Norman palaces". The archers aiming arrows at a tree of different nature may be a depiction of the Tree of Paradise on which the archers (bowmen of the king) are hoping to find their mark.
Beneath these mosaics is a fountain from which water flows down into a stream which flows along a marble canal the length of the pavement of the hall connecting with three square pools before being emptied into a large reservoir that rested immediately before the palace. Sources indicate that the reservoir was fitted with a central island on which a pleasure pavilion was built on the model of the cistern of Qairawan (860-62) and Raqqada. Al-Bakri reported that in Qairawan there was a pavilion with four doors which the Emir Ziadat Allah III used to make regular pleasure visits in his boat, ‘the glider'.
 Breckeuridge, J.D. (1975) `The Two Sicilies", in Ferber (ed.), Islam and the Medieval West, pp.39-66.
 Harvey, J. (1950) ‘The Gothic World :1100-1600, a survey of architecture and art', B.T. Batsford Ltd, London. p.57.
 Goss, V.P. (1986) `Western architecture and the world of Islam in the 12th century', in V.P. Goss and Borstein (eds.), pp.361-375.
 Marcais, G. (1954), ‘l'Architecture Musulmaned'Occident', Arts et metiers Graphiques, Paris, p.125 and figure 84, p.124.
 Michell, George (ed). (1980), ‘Architecture of the Islamic World: Its History and Social Meaning. London: Thames and Hudson,,p.222
 Quoted in M. Hattstein and P. Delius (eds.) (2000), ‘Islam Art and Architecture', Konemann, Cologne, p.161.
 Hillenbrand, R.(1994), ‘Islamic Architecture; Form, function and meaning', Edinburgh University Press, p.441
 Marcais, G. (1954), ‘l'Architecture Musulmaned'Occident', op cit., p122.
 Jairazbhoy, R.A. (1972), ‘An Outline of Islamic Architecture', Asia Publishing House, Bombay, London and New York., p.120
 Al- Bakri (1068), ‘Description de l'Afrique Septentrionale', translation of de Slane, 1913, Alger, Paris, p.60.
* 1st picture from Reconstruction of the building in its heyday, Drawing by R. Lentini, 1923, Photo G. Cappellani, Palermo (source: http://www.norman-world.com/angleterre/ Patrimoine_architectural/Italie/sicile/palazzi/1154_1189/38/d.htm)
by: FSTC Limited, Tue 22 February, 2005