The cathedral of Monreale is one of the greatest extant examples of Norman architecture anywhere. It was begun in 1174 by William II. In 1182 the church, dedicated to the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, was, by a bull of Pope Lucius III, elevated to the rank of a metropolitan cathedral.
The church is a national monument of Italy and one of the most important attractions of Sicily. Its size is 102 meters(334 ft) long and 40 meters wide(131 ft.)
The archiepiscopal palace and monastic buildings on the south side were of great size and magnificence, and were surrounded by a massive precinct wall, crowned at intervals by twelve towers. This has been mostly rebuilt, and but little now remains except ruins of some of the towers, a great part of the monks' dormitory and frater, and the splendid cloister, completed about 1200.
The latter is well preserved, and is one of the finest Italian cloisters now extant both for size and beauty of detail. It is about 2,200 m2, with pointed arches decorated with diaper work, supported on pairs of columns in white marble, 216 in all, which were alternately plain and decorated by bands of patterns in gold and colors, made of glass tesserae, arranged either spirally or vertically from end to end of each shaft. The marble capitals are each carved with foliage, biblical scenes and allegories, no two being alike. At one angle, a square pillared projection contains the marble fountain or monks' lavatorium, evidently the work of Muslim sculptors.