The duomo (literally “dome”, but meaning “cathedral”) at Salerno is rich in architectural delights. It is dedicated to Mary of the Angels and to San Matteo (Saint Matthew), whose remains arrived in Salerno in 954. Built on the site of a Roman temple, the church’s atrium has numerous Roman sarcophagi re-used for Christian burials. 28 columns, in their turn recycled from the local Roman Forum, support a colonnade that is unmistakeably Moorish in style.
Many elements of the church are Romanesque, dating back to the 11th century when Robert Guiscard ordered its construction. Visitors enter by a bronze door, forged in Constantinople in 1099 and once completely covered in gold and silver leaf. It shone so brightly Medieval worshippers talked of entering Il Paradiso.
Guarding the doorway are a lion and lioness, representing strength and charity. A local legend says that during a Saracen invasion these lions sprang to life and devoured the invading pirates, although today they seem too dentally challenged to pose much of a threat.
Rising 52 metres above the duomo is a mid 12th century Moorish/Norman bell tower. Fast forward a few hundred years and a substantial remodelling so that baroque and rococo styles are represented too. The duomo is both a pattern book for architecture and a refreshingly calm place to visit.