One of the most intriguing ports we disembarked on during our Mediterranean cruise was Palermo, Sicily. We boarded a bus for our guided tour and the first thing we noticed was the terrible traffic. The streets where chaotic…even more so than Rome…if that is possible. Our first stop was the Plazzo Steri also known as the Chiaramonte. From 1600 through 1782 the Tribunal of the Holy Inquisition made its’ home here. This building functioned as the jail of the Inquisition. As our guide described the torture that transpired in the buildings we could not help but wonder if the spirits of those who had suffered as heretics might still be lingering?
The creepiness of the Plazzo Steri palled in comparison to our next stop which was the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo. This was like nothing I had ever witnessed. Although we had visited the catacombs in Rome…there were no remains in the wall niches that we walked by. Not so in the catacombs of Palermo as not long after descending the many stairs to the bottom we began to pass…within arms length… the embalmed and mummified remains of not only the Capuchin Monks but also all manner of deceased including nobility, merchants, women, and children. Some women were in wedding dresses while many were dressed in their finest clothes of the day and monks included the ropes that they had used as penance rituals during their life. One body had been in life a casanova and thus had requested to be buried with glass eyes so that he could admire lovely women in his death. His appearance was more than a little disquieting.
An infant, Rosalia Lombardo, was preserved in such pristine condition that she appeared to be sleeping. She died in 1920.
After visiting the catacombs I could not help but reflect on the fleeting nature of this life and the perishable nature of our bodies.
During our excursion in Palermo we were given a couple of hours to explore the merchants district with many fine upscale shops. However they were for the most part closed for a customary two hour lunch and rest period making it difficult to explore more than the interesting facades and frontage of the businesses.
We stopped for lunch and were greeted by a friendly waiter who spoke virtually no english and we spoke no italian. He called for his manager to come out…who did speak a little english. He was smoking a cigar and after some trial and error told me to try his pasta with sardines. I later discovered that Palermo is noted for its’ sardines. Although this combination sounded strange to my american ears it was the most delicious dish I had during the cruise and ranked next to our special dish in Rome.
During the bus tour we were told by our guide that the mafia is still so strong in Palermo that when members of their family our being tried in court that they must be transported by a system of underground tunnels for fear that the police will be attacked and the prisoner released. About this time we passed the opera house that had a prominent role in the movie Godfather III.
Palermo is a beautiful city. It has posses an old world quality that is fascinating.