The subterranean catacombs that contain the mummified remains of about 8,000 ancient inhabitants of Palermo may be macabre, but are fascinating to visit. The Capuchin friars began mummifying and embalming the bodies of the city's nobles back in 1533, and the tradition continued for centuries with the last body (a seven-year-old girl named Rosalia) being embalmed in 1920. After embalming, the corpses were hung along the walls of the catacombs dressed in their best, which they still wear proudly, like the military officer in an 18th-century uniform complete with tricorn hat. The bodies are arranged according to profession, sex and age, with seperate sections for virgins, children and lawyers among other things. The tunnels are spooky and the experience can be quite emotional; the catacombs are cool and dimly lit and the atmosphere is one of respect and care for the ancestors, but although fascinating, this attraction will be disturbing for some. It is very interesting to learn about how the monks embalmed the bodies and the reasons why everything is so well-preserved, and the outfits are authentic reflections of local history. Photography is not allowed at all and visitors should treat the place with respect, keeping noise to a minimum.
Address: Piazza Cappuccini 1, Palermo
Telephone: +39 091 212 117
Opening times: Open daily from 9am to 12pm, and 3pm to 5pm (7pm in summer)