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Royal Platform
by Carlo Trabia

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The Loggia.Sicily is full of little-known vestiges of the distant past, and in no place is this truer than Palermo. Founded as a Phoenician trading port before 700 BC (BCE), the city has witnessed numerous conquests over the centuries --some more peaceful than others. As in many such cases in ancient societies, Palermo's most famous landmarks can rarely be claimed by a single group, particularly when one thing has been constructed (literally) above another. The Loggia dell'Incoronata is one of these structures.

Best known as the place where Sicily's Norman, Swabian and Aragonese kings received the acclaim of their subjects immediately after being crowned in the cathedral nearby, this raised platform is much-altered since its construction in the middle of the twelfth century. Yet the chapel inside exists in something close to its original condition.

Built during the middle of the twelfth century, the Loggia (pictured here) is located at the corner of Via Matteo Bonello and Via dell'Incoronazione. The wall has some medieval arched and slit windows. Later Baroque additions are also visible in the pillars and "railings" surrounding the platform.

The base of the structure, as well as its foundation, was built during the Arab period, which is to say before 1072, and formed part of the complex of the Great Mosque. It is probably of ninth century construction, consistent with what the Fatimids were building elsewhere during this era. The mosque itself was to a great extent nothing more or less than Palermo's Byzantine-era basilica. The present cathedral was in turn built upon this.

Protected by the supporting wall of the "Loggia," the chapel of "Saint Mary Crowned" (Santa Maria l'Incoronata) was constructed during the same period as the small church of Saint Mary Magdalen, in what is now the military base on the opposite (south) side of the episcopal curia. The date of completion is usually given as 1175.

The tiny chapel sustained extensive damage in 1860 during Garibaldi's attack on Palermo but has been restored. It was during this restoration, like those of the Magione and St Francis Assisi (both damaged in 1943), that much stucco and other Baroque decoration was removed to reveal the chapel's medieval appearance.

While the Loggia is little more than a footnote to Sicilian history, it does help us to imagine what it was like to witness the coronation of the young Frederick II and many other Sicilian sovereigns.

About the Author: Architect Carlo Trabia has written for this publication and others.

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© 2008 Carlo Trabia