The high peak of Arab-Norman art in Sicily overlooks the sea. Here it is, dominated by the Rocca, the cathedral of Cefalù, a superb fortress of faith and temple of magic mosaics culminating in the Christ Pantocrator with a completely human face, holding a page of the bible. Latin and Byzantine culture, Arabic culture and Nordic experiences merge in the basilica of Cefalù, dedicated to the Transfiguration, the unfinished masterpiece of Ruggero II. It is here that the Norman king wanted to be buried, although he was laid to rest in Palermo. The construction of that which was to be both church, fortress and mausoleum of the Norman royal family was star- ted on June 7th 1131, six months after Ruggero II was crowned king in Palermo.
Cefalù offers a rare combination of tourist attractions: one of Sicliy's finest beaches side-by-side with one of its greatest Arab-Norman architectural masterpieces.
Cefalù's cathedral is one of the jewels in Sicily's Arab-Norman crown, only equalled in magnificence by the Cattedrale di Monreale and Palermo's Cappella Palatina. Filling the central apse, a towering figure of Cristo Pantocratore (Christ All Powerful) is the focal point of the elaborate Byzantine mosaics – Sicily's oldest and best preserved, predating those of Monreale by 20 or 30 years.
Spiaggia di Cefalù
Cefalù's crescent-shaped beach is one of the most popular along the whole Sicilian coast. In summer it is packed, so be sure to arrive early to get a good spot. Though some sections require a ticket, the area closest to the old town is public and you can hire a beach umbrella and deckchair for around €15 per day.
This small, privately owned museum showcases a collection amassed by parliamentarian, archaeologist and natural-history buff, Baron Mandralisca (1809–64). The rather faded displays of Greek ceramics and Arab pottery are of marginal interest compared to Antonello da Messina's splendid Ritratto di un uomo ignoto (Portrait of an Unknown Man; 1465), considered one of the most distinctive portraits of the Italian Renaissance.
An enormous staircase, the Salita Saraceni, winds up through three tiers of city walls in a 30- to 45-minute climb to the summit of La Rocca. From here you have wonderful views of the town below. There are two main access points, both marked by signs for 'Tempio di Diana': take Vicolo Saraceni off Corso Ruggero, or Via Giuseppe Fiore, just to the right (south) of the Banco di Sicilia on Piazza Garibaldi.
Bastione Capo Marchiafava
For fabulous sea views in the heart of Cefalù, make your way to this 17th-century fortification, off Via Bordonaro. Crowds gather here to watch the sunset or simply catch some rays on a sunny afternoon.