The cathedral was erected in 1131 in the Norman architectural style, as the island of Sicily had been conquered by the Normans in 1091. According to tradition, the building was erected after a vow made to the Holy Saviour by the King of Sicily, Roger II, after he escaped from a storm to land on the city's beach. The building has a fortress-like character and, seen from a distance, it dominates the skyline of the surrounding medieval town. It made a powerful statement of the Norman presence.
The Cathedral was built in an area of ancient and continuing population, as attested by the findings of a Roman road and a Palaeo-Christian mosaic. Construction began in 1131, the apse mosaics were begun in 1145, and the sarcophagi that Roger II provided for his tomb and that of his wife were put in place the same year.
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