Zisa is claimed to be a corruption of the Arab term Al-Aziz, meaning dear or splendid and this word is found in the entrance as was usual in Arabic edifices of this era.  However, the original Carthaginian name for Palermo was Zis and the site stands upon the ancient Phoenician necropolis of Zis (Palermo).

Castello Della Zisa in Palermo was supposedly taken from the emirs of the Fatimid empire by Robert and Roger Hauteville in 1072.  However, the current Zisa is an Arabic palace begun by Arab craftsmen for King William I of Sicily (1154-66) before 1161.  In that year he was ‘constructing a splendid palace in his gardens' when an uprising killed his son, Roger.   The palace was allegedly built by William as he had built nothing to compare with his father's palaces of Favara and Minenia so he decided that:

he too should have a palace constructed, which would be designed on a larger and better plan so as to overshadow all his father's buildings. 

The work was done with amazing speed, but William died suddenly of dysentery before it could be finished.

The castle was completed by his next son, William II (1166-89).  A later chronicle states:

King William ordered to be erected near Palermo a marvellous palace, built with admirable technical competence, which he called Zisa, surrounded by fruit trees and splendid gardens, rendered pleasurable by numerous fountains and fishponds.

King William's text around the monument stated:

Although you will sometimes, you will see the most beautiful possession of the most splendid of the realms of the world, of the seas and the mountain that dominates there where peaks are tinged with narcissus and you will see the great king of the century in a beautiful living room that magnificence and gladness should suit him. This is the Mosta'Izz and this palace the Aziz.

Mosta'Izz was apparently a nickname for King William II (d.1189) meaning ‘eager for glory'.  The crenellations were added in the fourteenth century destroying some of the Arabic inscription.

The palace consists of a rectangle with a twin storey entrance over which is a coat of arms supported by 2 lions rampant - the Hauteville arms were azure, a bend checky argent and gules.  Under the internal arch of 4 columns is a fresco of mythological figurines.  Internally there is a cross vault with golden mosaics, marbles and frescoes with a fountain dug into the wall.  The water from the fountain keeps the room cool and flows out to a small lake in front of the building.  An outer wall with gateway still survives.

Why not join me here and at other Sicilian castles?  Information on this and other tours can be found at Scholarly Sojourns.


Copyright©2019 Paul Martin Remfry