Palermo mosque discovered during home renovations

From late 1700s, owners to keep it as it is

27 August, 16:50

    The mosque discovered in Palermo (Photo by Franco Lannino) The mosque discovered in Palermo (Photo by Franco Lannino)

    (ANSAmed) - ROME - The owners of a Palermo flat have discovered a mosque inside their property during renovation work on it. The flat in Via Porta di Castro is in an area of buildings over what used to be the Kemonia river, before it was land-filled around 1600, near the Royal Palace of Palermo.

    The couple, Giuseppe Cadili and Valeria Giarrusso, both journalists, bought the apartment eight years ago and initiated renovation work. They had planned to knock down the wall of a room to create an open area, but Giuseppe soon realised that the plaster was wet. "There was a leak inside of a wall. Cleaning it up a bit I realised that there was Arabic writing on it," he said. Drawing attention to this discovery would have cost too much at the time, and therefore it was only recently that the couple decided to bring in a restoration expert, as the work is delicate and requires special training. "I would never have imagined that the writing covered all four walls," Giuseppe continued, noting that they are decorated in detailed Arabic inscriptions in gold and silver. It was at that point that the amazed owners decided to have it examined. They received a response from Gaetano Basile, an expert in Palermo history who was the first to become aware of the case. He said that the inscriptions are artisan versions of the decorative calligraphy widespread in those years. Most of it is of purely decorative purposes, Basile was quoted by Giornale di Sicilia as saying in an article on the discovery of the mosque. "This is a well-known part of our culture, marked by the invention of 'rabbisco', an entirely Sicilian legacy of arabesque. The Sicilian artisan, who did not know Arabic (anymore), mistook calligraphic verses for decoration, and emulated them. Sicilian carts were full of 'rabbischi'. It is likely that the house belonged to a North African nobleman or merchant who had made his home in Palermo around the later 1700s," he said, noting that a large Muslim community lived in the Sicilian capital in that period. "The owner - Basile said - basically had a mosque built in his house. There are clear indications of this: first of all, it has eastern exposure, the walls are of an identical size - 3.5 by 3.5 m, it has doors located in such a way as to prevent the placement of furniture, and the ceiling has a repeating lamp pattern." The discovery is the first of its kind, as a mosque built into private dwellings had never before been seen in Sicily. The owners see it as having a deeper meaning, however.

    "We wanted to give the proper weight to this discovery and convey our love for the historic center," Giuseppe said. "Too often things from our past are destroyed instead of bringing them back to life. This room also transmits an extraordinary feeling of serenity. This is why we decided to keep it as we found it: we put in a sofa and a desk and, out of respect for the Muslim culture, we do not serve alcoholic beverages in this room." (ANSAmed).

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