The Capuchin catacombs: the dark side of Palermo.

Palermo is the place par excellence of the sun, of the beautiful landscapes, of the most suggestive coasts of Sicily that mix together with the refined artistic taste of the urban center.

Do you know, however, the darker and macabre side? SicilianMagpie shows you the basements of the Capuccini catacombs.

The complex stands in the basement of the church of Santa Maria della Pace, in the heart of the Cuba district.

A steep and dark staircase leads the visitor to a narrow underground cemetery characterized by a mystical and gloomy aura. Inside, more than 8000 mummified corpses are exhibited according to the order of class, sex and social role.

It was probably designed in the 16th century to preserve the bodies of the Capuchin friars. Over the years, however, even the Palermo bourgeoisie was attracted by the charm of making the glory of the dead immortal, but the huge cost of the embalming processes makes the practice a status symbol.

Monks, wealthy merchants, officers in uniform, virgins in wedding dresses, children in party dresses are exposed with disparate poses trying to escape the oblivion and decay of the material.

Mummies have different states of conservation: some perfectly intact seem to evade time, others are now deformed bodies in dusty clothes of past years.

Among these, the best known is the body of little Rosalia Lombardo. Died in 1920 at the age of two due to bad pneumonia. The father decided to fill the pain of absence by making the child’s candid beauty eternal. Alfredo Salafia was very skilled in his work to make the girl eternal, absorbed in a long sleep.

Later the little baby with the pink bow on her head, nicknamed “the sleeping beauty”, is locked up in a nitrogen-saturated case to avoid the progress of the signs of decomposition.

In the 17th century the place became a stage of the Grand Tour as not only a fundamental piece of Palermo’s history, but a place of reflection on the ephemeral permanence of man on earth.

The place inspired not only the considerations of great visitors such as Thomas Mann, but also the inspiration of some famous artists: Calcedonio Reina, for example, created the painting “Love and Death“, currently preserved in Catania in the art gallery of Castello Ursino. The representation of the two lovers inside the Capuchin catacombs echoes the mythological struggle between “Eros and Thanatos” or Love and Death, the power of life in conflict with the unequivocal human destiny.

We recommend visiting the place for curious and thrill-seeking visitors, but also for those who simply want to reflect on life and time.

Martina Spampinato

Culinary tradition and folklore: the markets of Palermo.

Since ancient times, Palermo has based its economy on trade and on the exploitation of territorial resources. The markets of Palermo, in fact, can be considered the true heart of the city, a dip in the history and tradition of the Sicilian chief town.

SicilianMagpie will guide you on this journey, through voices, smells and tastes.

Vucciria

It is the most famous of the Palermo markets. Not surprisingly, due to its ancient and constant activity, the popular voices state that “i balati ra Vucciria ‘un s’asciucanu mai” (from the dialect “the street of Vucciria are always wet”)
Its name has its roots in the Palermo dialect: “vucciria“, in fact, means “screams”.

It is one of the closest shopping centers to the port and, since the 12th century, it has been a place of interest for Pisan, Genoese and Venetian mercenaries. The concentration of small shops of artisans, stalls, butchers and fish stalls have attracted visitors since very ancient times.

Cucuzzeddi, pisci friscu, stigghiole, frutta di tutti i tipi” (which means “zucchini, fresh fish, goat entrails, all kinds of fruitare”) still advertised loudly by local merchants. The gastronomic development has also allowed the opening of many restaurants who allow tourists to fully immerse themselves in the culture of the place.
Vucciria, however, changes its face at sunset. In the evening, in fact, bars and pubs, becoming a reference point for the Palermo nightlife.

Ballarò

It is the oldest of the Palermo markets. It is located between the ramparts of Corso Tukory and Via Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda.

His “buciari“, or merchants, are the best known for the sale of typical fruit deriving from the neighboring countryside of Palermo and for the traditional foods cooked inside their own shops or stalls.

In antiquity it was the favorite place for Arab traders. In fact, it was possible to find spices and precious silks from the Middle Eastern countries.

But Ballarò is not just culinary tradition. In recent years it has become an important place for contemporary art. Thanks to the “Cartoline da Ballarò” project, the market area has become one of the most famous centers of Sicilian street art. Artists like Igor Scalisi Palminteri, Andrea Buglisi, Alessandro Bazan, Angelo Crazyone, Fulvio di Piazza have embellished the area of Ballarò/Albergheria with sensational murals that make this stage unique and important in the touristic tours.

The Capo

From Porta Carini to Via Beati Paoli we can find one of the most popular markets in Palermo: the Capo. It has Muslim origin and, later, it becomes one of the most important market for the Augustinian monks who resided in the homonymous church in the neighborhood. The long street full of stalls and small shops, making this place folk and useful for the purchase of traditional Palermo products.

Borgo Vecchio

Also one of the typical Palermo markets. Its numerous stalls are located between Piazza Sturzo and Piazza Ucciardone.
It is the only market that remains open until the evening hours, allowing visitors to take advantage of typical products whenever they want. Because of this peculiarity, it is the point of reference for many young people who meet here for dinner and organize their evenings.

The flea market

Born in the post-war period, the flea market becomes the flagship and the direct testimony of Palermo’s history.
In Piazza del Papireto, the small and permanent shops in sheet metal with their very special ancient memorabilia making this place a fundamental stop for tourists in Palermo.
In it, also, we can find manufacturing works from the Sixties and Seventies and small stalls with jewels and other handmade items.

Santa Maria dello Spasimo: at the adge of the sky

Have you ever seen a church without the roof? Don’t be surprised, you are in “Santa Maria dello Spasimo”, a sanctuary in the old jewish quarter of “Kalsa” in Palermo.

Its history dates back to 1509 when Giacomo Basilicò, devoted to the Virgin, returned from a trip in Jerusalem, he finances the construction of a church dedicated to the pain of Our Lady after the death of Jesus. It is built in a Basilicò’s land next to the gates of the city.

According to the project, the church, the cloister, the bell tower, the dormitory, the cemetery and the vegetable garden had to be ready in 6 years. In reality, due to the ambitious project and the lack of funds, the works aren’t completed and, until today, it is a big unfinished architectural work.

A legend tells that Basilicò commissions to Raffaello Sanzio the famous painting called “Spasm of Sicily”. At the end of the work, it is packed and embarked in a ship that, during the journey, sinks. Inexplicably, however, it is found in the coast of Genova in perfect condition. In Palermo it is exposed until 1661 when, due to the neglect and abandonment of the church, the Viceroy Don Ferdinando D’Ayala decide to donate the painting to the King of Spain. Now it is displayed in the museum of Prado in Madrid. A faithful copy, painted by the sicilian artist Jacopo Vignerio, it can be seen in the chuch of San Francesco D’Assisi all’Immacolata in Catania.

In 1537, a violent Arab invasion, forced the people of Palermo to save themselves and fortify the city. Even the monks, residing in the structure, are forced to find another accommodation, leaving the church at the mercy of events.

Then, the place is reused in different ways: in 1582 it is used for theatrical performances; in 1634, due the plague epidemic, it becomes a lazaret; in the 800’s it is hospice and subsequently a hospital; at the end of the Second World War it is one of the largest deposits of works of art.

In 1997 it becomes the seat of BRASS, an important jazz school.

The visitor, who will have the opportunity to visit the structure, will surely be overwhelmed by the astonishment, not only for the architectural magnificence, but for the possibility of observing the interpenetration of human work and nature. Inside the main nave, in fact, trees stretch their branches towards the upper part of the structure, creating a close connection between the earth and the sky. The vibrations that the place emanates seem to generate a connection between an earthly reality and an ethereal spirituality.

 

Martina Spampinato

 

Cefalù

cefalù

Nested like a rare gem between the Tyrrhenian Sea and the massifs of the Madonie Park, Cefalù is a small medieval town in the province of Palermo (about 70 km away).
In itself it contains the history, art and Sicilian landscape beauty: a seaside resort considered for its suggestive beaches (such as La Caldura and Salinelle) and one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.

It was inhabited since prehistoric times, in the 4th century, it became, a small Hellenistic port. In this period its name was born: Κεφαλοίδιον (Kefaloidion), from the Greek “kefa” or “kefalé”, that means “head”, due to its strategic position on top of the fortress.
It was conquered by the Greek, Syracusan, Roman people, it reached its maximum beauty in the Byzantine era. In this period the urban layout was modified, moving the city centre from the flat land to the fortress. It has been unchanged over the centuries, the cobblestones of the Cefalù’s fortress cover medieval streets, and lead us to the most interesting cultural sites; one of the most important is, without doubt, the Cathedral Basilica of the Transfiguration.

There is a legend that tells us that Ruggero II arrived in the port after a terrible storm and he ordered to build a cathedral in honor to the Holy Savior. Works began in 1131 and in 1145 Ruggero II commissioned mosaics and porphyry sarcophagi destined for his own burial and that of his wife. The architecture is complex: Norman influences (such as the main towers) mix with Arabian and fifteenth-century structures. Inside it is divided into three naves crossed by an imposing transept. The mosaic decoration which is considered the flagship: a Christ Pantocrator dominates the apse, the index and the middle fingers united indicate its human and divine nature, the other joined fingers symbolize the Trinity. The remaining representations are devoted to the figure of the Virgin Mary accompanied by the archangels and other biblical characters. Since 2015, the cathedral has become part of the UNESCO World Heritage.

Cefalù is unique and can’t be missed as a fundamental destination in western Sicily. The famous writer Leonardo Sciascia said: “there is no tourist that traveling through Sicily – even if has little interest in arts- between Palermo and Messina- that doesn’t feel obliged and willing to stop in Cefalù […]”.

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by Martina Spampinato