17 July, 2016
When planning a trip to Sicily, what springs to mind is the island’s astounding heritage – the result of its eventful past – as well as the chance to see an active volcano like Mt Etna, taste its delicious, varied cuisine, have a bathe in its magnificent waters or simply let yourself be carried away by its decadent magic. And, why deny it, devotees of The Godfather who want to discover the cradle of the Sicilian Mafia have things cut out for them here. Who would have though that the largest island in the Mediterranean, coveted and invaded over the centuries by Greeks, Germanic tribes, Saracens, Normans, Spaniards and, finally, Italians would end up becoming a destination for tourists in search of experiences and souvenirs.
The capital, Palermo, is a must-visit city for any tourists worth their salt. What a delight it is to wander along the city’s labyrinthine streets and behold the sheer number and variety of monuments, a melange of the Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Renaissance and Baroque. It is a pleasure for art lovers and sightseers alike.
Mummies in the Catacombs of the Capuchins
However, those who hanker for something over and above myriad monuments in Palermo, or who simply wish to add a touch of mystery and morbid fascination to their stay in the city – and are prepared for the odd nightmare – should not hesitate to jot down on their wish list a visit to the Catacombs of the Capuchins. Situated in the Piazza Cappuccini, on the outskirts of Palermo, it offers what is certain to be one of the most unusual shows on the island as it houses the mummies of numerous Palermitani. We aren’t aware of whether they rest in peace, what with so many tourists milling about the rooms, but they do manage to stir up fear and inspiration for the odd horror movie.
The story goes that, from the 17th to the late-19th century, the friars in this community used to mummify and thus preserve for posterity the bodies of numerous Palermitani – specifically, those who requested and were able to afford it. To achieve this they resorted to a rather rudimentary technique which involved eliminating all moisture from the corpses inside a cave with a very dry atmosphere and then bathing them in vinegar, after which the bodies were left to dry in the sun, to complete the process of mummification. Quite shocking, isn’t it?
When filing through the catacombs, you get the feeling you are not alone, but accompanied by a bizarre retinue, some of whose members are lying down and others hanging vertically against the walls, dressed in all their finery and meticulously arranged by gender and social class. The headiest and severest moment on the tour is when you see the mummy of the little girl, Rosalia Lombardo, who died in 1920 at the age of two and who seems to be more asleep than dead. It is almost impossible not to feel cold shivers when setting eyes on her.
The strangest thing about this story is that the reason for this practice is not known, while there is no other place on the island where corpses are preserved in this manner.
Pluck up the courage to visit this unusual spot, suitable only for dare-devils and lovers of the bizarre. Book your Vueling here.
Text by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS
Images by Juan Antonio F. Segal
17 July, 2016