Qantara Qantara

The Zisa of Palermo

  • Name : The Zisa of Palermo
  • Place : Palermo, Sicily
  • Construction date/period : Circa 1164-1175
  • Construction materials : Stone and bricks
  • Recipient/Mandatory : William I and William II
  • Dimensions : L. 36.36m; W. 19.60m; H. 25m
  • Transcription :

    1. Text in Kufic script confined to the top of the façade etween the merlons. The façade was partially destroyed by repairs in the fourteenth century, and the damage was increased by restoration work in the sventeenth century:

    1. بسم الله…

    2. …حيم ؟ أيا ال-

    3. …النصر الع- ‘ ?...

    4. …كي ومن …

    5. …ت أمر ال-…

    6. …من سلم عليك…

    7. … مشيد و ؟ ع…

    8.دائم هبذوا ؟ ...

    9. …امجدا و عز…

    10. …ف الصايت ؟ وا…

    11. البنا كافو  ؟ ...

    12. هم نصرني س …

    13. …هيتى ؟ ها…

    14. …د كذلك…

    15. اك السمتين ؟…

    16. هم ؟ النجم ها …

    17. …ناصر…

    18. ت من مجالس …

     

    2. Text in Nashkhi script, partially destroyed in the seventeenth century, from the frieze which surrounded the entrance arch of the Fountain hall, on the ground floor.

    إذا شئت تبصر خير ملك / أجل ممالك الدنيا بحور

    ومرباها تشا...القمم نرجسا و...  

    وت) را ملك الزمان بخير مغنى    يحق له التظاهر والسرور

    وهذه جنة الدنيا تبدت                    وهذ( ا) المستعز وذا العزيز

  • Translations-inscriptions :

    1.                  [In the n]ame of God...

    2.                   ...-gods. Oh! ...

    3.                  ...glo-... victory?...

    4.                  ...and of...

    5.                   ...the...commanded...

    6.                   ...of the peace that is on you?...

    7.                  ...imposing...

    8.                  ...eternal. ?...

    9.                   ...the most glorious and the power of?...

    10.               ...which resounds...

    11.               ...the building...

    12.               ...them. Christian...

    13.               ...my face...

    14.               ...like that...

    15.               ...the two sides...

    16.               ...the star...

    17.               ...defender...

    18.               ...the halls...

    2. Each time that you wish you will see the greatest prize/ of the most splendid of worldly kingdoms: seas and ? whose peaks? with narcissus...

    You shall see the King of Time in a fine palace/ filled by right with magnificence and joy

    The earthly paradise has appeared/ this is the Mustaʿizz[1] and that the ‘Azîz[2].

  • Restoration :

    After the collapse of the north wing in 1971, substantial restoration work was undertaken, led by Guiseppe Caronia. The archways were reconstructed and the original volumes, reinforced with concrete, were revealed. At the conclusion of the work, the building was opened to the public and now houses a collection of Islamic objects, including the amphora which filled the vaults of the Zisa and which were discovered during the restoration work.

The Zisa sollatium[3] is one of the suburban residences built by the Norman kings of Sicily and designed for l’otium[4] and relaxation. Other examples include the Favara (Maredolce), the Scibene, the Park of Altofonte and the pavillions of Cuba and Cuba Soprana. The palace was situated inside a large park, the Genoard (jannat al-ard or “earthly paradise”), and was surrounded by gardens, fountains and large ornamental lakes. Its name derives from the term ‘aziz (“noble”, “splendid”), used in the inscription over the entrance door to the central room on the ground floor.

The building is a rectangular parallelipiped; two short wings jut out at the centre of the shorter sides. Against it is set a small narrow building linking it to a small chapel dedicated to the Holy Trinity. The facades feature a series of large blind arcades, with at the top an epigraphic frieze in Kufic script, like those in the Palatine Chapel, Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio, San Cataldo and the baths of Cefalà Diana.

Inside, on each of the three floors, all the rooms surround one central room and are arranged symmetrically in relation to the transversal axis of the building. On the ground floor, a hallway runs the entire length of the building and gives access to the Fountain Hall. This space is two storeys high and is conceived as an ἳwἃn with ornamental recesses built into the walls and decorated with muqarnas.

A system of openings through the internal walls and of ventilation pipes fitted into the small towers at the sides gave a continuous circulation of air, which guaranteed a pleasant internal temperature even in extreme heat.

The influence of Islamic customs and architecture is apparent both in the Zisa’s general structure and in the water system, which includes impressive hydraulic circuitry carrying water to the ornamental lakes. The water emerged in the entrance hall and from there it flowed down a slope decorated with a zigzag pattern, through a series of elegant fountains that recall the shardiwan of Qalʿa, and on to the great fishpond in front of the palace, where there stood a small pavilion.

Some writers consider that the Zisa was built by local Islamic craftsmen in cooperation with craftsmen from the Maghreb. The impressive height, the clean geometric volumes emphasised by blind arcades, the formal internal arrangement which enhances the public spaces while concealing the private apartments, the use of semi-circular vaulting supporting ornamental tilework and terracing, all these are architectonic characteristics which lead to frequent comparison of the Zisa with palaces of the Hammadide dynasty (Qalʿa: Dâr al-Bahr and the ground floor of the Dâr al-Manâr),  those of the Zirides (Achir palace) and those of the Fatimids (Tunis: Banû Khurasân and Burj al-Arif de Mahdia). Nevertheless, in the second half of the twelfth century, most of these architectural features were already known to local island culture. They had first been tried out in the period of Roger II and contributed to the formation of a new style which makes Sicilian creations original.

NOTE

[1] « Glorious by the grace of God » is the lagab or dynastic name of William II in Arabic.

[2] This term means: noble, powerful, honoured, etc.; it refers here to the palace: Zisa comes from ‘Aziza.

[3] Place of pleasure.

[4] Latin name for leisure time.

BIBLIOGRAPHY RELATED TO THE MONUMENT

Amari, M., Le epigrafi arabiche di Sicilia, Palerme, 1875, rééd. 1971, p. 66-82.

Caronia, G., La Zisa di Palermo. Storia e restauro, Palerme, 1982.

Spatrisano, G., La Zisa e lo Scibene di Palermo, Palerme, 1982.

Staacke, U., Die Zisa- normannische Palastarchitektur des 12. Jahrunderts und ihre Beziehungen zur islamischen Baukunst, trad. it. Un palazzo normanno a Palermo. La Zisa. La cultura musulmana negli edifici dei Re, Palerme, 1991.

REFERENCE BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bellafiore, G., Architettura in Sicilia nelle età islamica e normanna (827-1194), Palerme, 1990, p. 149-151.

Ciotta, G., La cultura architettonica normanna in Sicilia, Messine, 1992, p. 235-245.

Di Stefano, G., Krönig, W., Monumenti della Sicilia normanna, Palerme, 1983, p. 103-108.

Goldschmidt, A., « Die normannischen Königspaläste in Palermo », in Zeitschrift für Bauwesen, 48, 1898, p. 541-590.

Meier, H.-R., « I palazzi residenziali di Palermo », in d’Onofrio, M. (éd.), I Normanni popolo d’Europa 1030-1200 (exh. cat., Rome, Palazzo Venezia, 1994), Venise, 1994, p. 221-227.

Ventrone Vassallo, G., « La Sicilia islamica e postislamica dal IV/X al VII/XIII secolo », in Curatola, G. (éd.),  Eredità dell’Islam. Arte islamica in Italia (exh. cat., Venise, 1994), Milan, 1993, p. 183-193.



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