Discover the Capuchin catacombs of Palermo, a thrill in the heart of Sicily

The city of Palermo in Sicily is famous for its buildings, pretty facades, churches, its fine sandy beaches and its sunny alleys. But it is nevertheless a somewhat morbid attraction that attracts visitors. The Capuchin Catacombs house an impressive collection of 8000 bodies of Sicilians more or less preserved over time, between skeletons and almost intact bodies. Alexandre Dumas, Guy de Maupassant or even Carlo Levi visited these Sicilian tombs in their time, which have now become real archaeological treasures.

If visiting this unusual archaeological museum can be very scary, it is also instructive. Indeed, this place will allow you to discover Sicilian history, all in a macabre atmosphere… During your trip to Sicily, do not hesitate to make a stopover at the Capuchin catacombs of Parleme, especially during Halloween for a unforgettable experience in the middle of the bones! Let’s go for an excursion in these somewhat unusual basements…

The emergence of mummies in Sicily

At the end of the 16th century in Sicily, religious congregations in monasteries and chapels began to use body preservation techniques for their deceased brethren. The bodies were embalmed during their funeral as one might do for a mummy, then buried in the underground chambers, their cold and dry climate was perfect for this. In fact, legend has it that the inauguration of this tradition was accidental. As the Capuchin ossuary ran out of space to bury their dead, they were forced to build catacombs. When they examined the bodies of 45 Capuchin friars miraculously preserved in the crypt, the monks saw in it a divine sign. Custom dictated that the dead be kept with their priestly vestments in glass coffins. From 1783, the practice spread to aristocratic families who came to be buried alongside the Capuchin friars in place of a more traditional burial. In this way, they sought to retain their social prestige in the afterlife. These families paid a concession for the bodies to remain exposed in the underground passages. The remains for which the preservation costs were no longer paid were placed in small niches while waiting. Normally the dead are hidden from the eyes of the living. In the catacombs, the dead, their skeletons and their skulls are exposed along the galleries in broad daylight in a state of preservation that can make people feel uncomfortable. Some even liken these corpses to unused puppets or even sculptures…

Eugenio interguglielmi, public domain
Eugenio Interguglielmi, public domain
Giuseppe Incorpora, public domain
Giuseppe Incorpora, public domain

To appreciate your adventure off the beaten track, do not hesitate to opt for a guided tour of the site. Indeed, this one will be able to explain to you in detail the history of these places and these mummified people.

uli, flickr
alexey dumchev, flickr
Alexey Dumchev/Flickr
catacombs, gmihail
kapsha, flickr
me_me_tr, flickr
Monica forss, Flickr
Monica Forss/Flickr

Rosalia Lombardo, “the sleeping beauty”

One of the last people buried was a little girl named Rosalia Lombardo, who died of pneumonia in the 1920s. Her body among the other deceased still amazes today with its incredible state of preservation. She is nicknamed “the sleeping beauty” like Sleeping Beauty. This remarkable mummification is the work of Alfredo Salafia, arguably the most talented chemist and embalmer of his time. Unlike the classic mummification technique, his body was not emptied of all his organs. And it turns out that these are preserved in perfect condition! Result, we do not even see his skeleton! Baby Rosalia was an internet ‘phenomenon’ for some time as a viral video claimed to show the little girl continuing to blink. A controversy quickly dismantled by the curator of the catacombs who explained that the phenomenon was produced by an optical illusion because of the light which filters through the crystal coffin. We are reassured. It remains to be seen whether you will bear the sight of such a corpse…


So, are you ready to book your flight for a little private tour of this place and meet mafiosos? Besides that, Sicily has wonderful surprises in store for its visitors and is worth the detour! To find a flight, a hotel with an all-inclusive package or to rent a car, do not hesitate to go to comparators to find the best prices. Otherwise, there is an equally impressive place in France, namely the Paris Catacombs where millions of Parisians are kept there.

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Mohamed SAKHRI
Mohamed SAKHRI

I am Mohamed SAKHRI, the creator and editor-in-chief of this blog, 'Discover the World – The Blog for Curious Travelers.' Join me as we embark on a journey around the world, uncovering beautiful places, diverse cultures, and captivating stories. Additionally, we will delve into mysterious and, at times, even bizarre destinations.

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