La Zisa palace was commissioned by Norman King William I (1153-1166) and finished by his son, William II (1172-1189) in 1175. The name Zisa is derived from the Arab word “El Aziz,” or The Splendid. The palace was originally surrounded by gardens. Today, it still is the focal point of a public park, but the city of Palermo has grown up around its grounds.
Pictured is the central atrium of the palace. At its center was a fountain (Imagine cool water cascading down the ramp in the background and into the canal!). Zisa was build in the Arab-Norman style, and like the Cathedrals of Monreale, Cefalù, and Palermo, architecturally, it is a fusion of traditional central-European, North African, Latin, and Greco-Bizantine styles–intended to be a reflection of the multi-cultural and tolerant kingdom that Roger II (1095-1154) formed. Although altered throughout the centuries by various residents, Zisa still possesses unique splendor. Today, the palace is part of Palermo’s newly named UNESCO World Heritage Site.