The Underground Catacomb City Filled With Mummies
Beneath the Sicilian streets are rooms filled with monks, lawyers, babies, and virgins. Enter if you dare: Palermo’s catacombs are teeming with centuries of the city’s dead.
Palermo’s most famous citizens are very, very old. Underneath Sicily’s capital city, known for mafioso and stately Baroque churches, preserved corpses fill five subterranean limestone corridors and have been attracting visitors with a morbid curiosity for centuries.
Beneath the Capuchin Convent, a simple structure on the town’s outskirts, monks tend to a 400-year-old crypt filled with 2,000 mummies displayed in rows of upright bodies, supported by hooks in their necks and tilting precariously from wall niches or laid to rest horizontally in tattered clothing.
Visitors are greeted by the oldest mummy, Brother Silvestro of Gubbio, who is clad in a simple brown robe and headdress, clutching an identifying sign. He was the first to be placed in the catacombs when he died in 1599, around a half-century after the Capuchins first settled on the site. Their macabre collection began when friars discovered that the bodies of their late brothers were mummified after being buried in the porous soil, which proved the ideal conditions for natural preservation. Taken as a sign from the heavens, the mummies were moved inside and put on display.