Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo

Palermo, Italy

The Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo (Catacombe dei Cappuccini) are burial catacombs. Today they provide a somewhat macabre tourist attraction as well as an extraordinary historical record.

Palermo's Capuchin monastery outgrew its original cemetery in the 16th century and monks began to excavate crypts below it. In 1599 they mummified one of their number, recently dead brother Silvestro of Gubbio, and placed him into the catacombs.

The bodies were dehydrated on the racks of ceramic pipes in the catacombs and sometimes later washed with vinegar. Some of the bodies were embalmed and others enclosed in sealed glass cabinets. Monks were preserved with their everyday clothing and sometimes with ropes they had worn as a penance.

Originally the catacombs were intended only for the dead friars. However, in the following centuries it became a status symbol to be entombed into the Capuchin catacombs. In their wills, local luminaries would ask to be preserved in certain clothes, or even to have their clothes changed at regular intervals. Priests wore their clerical vestments, others were clothed according to the contemporary fashion. Relatives would visit to pray for the deceased and also to maintain the body in presentable condition.

The last friar interred into the catacombs was Brother Riccardo in 1871 but other famous people were still interred. The catacombs were officially closed in 1880 but tourists continued to visit. The last burials are from the 1920s. The catacombs contain about 8000 corpses and 1252 mummies that line the walls. The halls are divided into categories: Men, Women, Virgins, Children, Priests, Monks, and Professionals. Some bodies are better preserved than others. Some are set in poses; for example, two children are sitting together in a rocking chair. The coffins were accessible to the families of the deceased so that on certain days the family could hold their hands and they could 'join' their family in prayer.

The catacombs are open to the public and taking photographs inside is supposedly prohibited, with prominent signs making it clear to visitors that photography is not allowed. Iron grills have been installed to prevent tourists tampering or posing with the corpses.

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Details

Founded: 1599
Category: Cemeteries, mausoleums and burial places in Italy

Rating

4.3/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Lars Richter (12 months ago)
Very unique place. Don't know where you can see something similar. It's an unusual experience and one should be respectful when walking through the alleys.
Dominique Meier (13 months ago)
Nice to visit, but I appears a little uncomfortable that no one seem to care about the corps. Just send as many paying tourists inside as possible nothing else matters...
Pe Es (13 months ago)
Amazing place with special atmosphere, mummies scare :D , making photos is prohibited
Razvan (15 months ago)
A must go if you're in Palermo and have 1 hour to spare. Very interesting and also spooky . You can visit everything in under 30min. Entrance is 3 euros which is very cheap in my opinion for such an unique place . You cannot take photos inside , but you can Google the photos to have an idea . Again, a definitely must go
Susie B (15 months ago)
I really enjoyed it. We got there about 40 minutes before they closed and had plenty of time to see all of the different areas. Admission was only 3€ for adults. Since we got there close to closing, we didn't look to see, so I'm not sure if they have a brochure explaining more about the place or if it's only available on a website, but I think if there was a little more information, either about the different sections, different ways they were mummified/preserved, maybe some history on the people that would make my review a 5 for sure. There was definitely a difference in the preservation methods, some were done very well, even still had facial hair and hair on their head, while others were just skeleton. I thought it was also interesting to see some of the different fillers used and would have liked to know more about why certain substrates/mediums were chosen without having to go to Google to look it up. I thought it was very educational and left me wanting to understand more about the history.
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