NORMANS IN EUROPEAN HISTORY
serving as the incomparable site of a great cathedral, with storied mosaics of every color covering its walls and vaulted ceiling like an illuminated missal, and with cloisters of rare and piercing beauty; and between them, in space and time, the palaces and churches of Palermo—the church of the Martorana, built in the Byzantine style and endowed with a Greek library by Roger's admiral George of Antioch, the Saracenic edifices of San Cataldo and San Giovanni degli Eremiti, and the unsurpassed glories of the Cappella Palatina—all set against the brilliant background of the Sicilian capital, which owes to the Norman kings its unique place in the history of art.
Welcoming merchants and strangers of every land and race, containing within itself organized communities of Greeks, Mohammedans, and Jews, each with its own churches, mosques, or synagogues, the Palermo of the twelfth century was a great cosmopolitan city and the natural centre of a Mediterranean art. Midway between Cordova and Constantinople, between Africa and Italy, it laid them all under contribution. Travellers celebrated the luxuriant gardens of the city and its surrounding plain, with the vast fields of sugar cane and groves of orange, fig, and lemon, olive and palm and pomegranate, its commodious harbor and its spacious and busy streets, its gorgeous fabrics and abundance of foreign wares, its walls and palaces and places of worship. "A stupendous city," says the Spanish traveller,