Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Visit to the Catacombs of Palermo

Today's blog entry takes us to the Italian city of Palermo on the island of Sicily and a rather unique tourist attraction. The Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo (sometimes called King Capuchin Catacombs) are quite literally a city of the dead. Around 8,000 corpses line the various halls of the underworld and consist of all ages and both males and females. Though initially intended for friars of the local monastery, the idea took off with the local population that began to donate money to have their own relatives interred.

Starting in 1599 and lasting through the 1920s, corpses were put on display for their grieving loved ones to come and pray and mourn their passing. The halls were even categorized for convenience sake and bodies were moved according to the categorizations: men, women, children, priests, and even a spot for virgins. Even more unusual was the special requests of the entombed before their death that their clothes were changed at frequent intervals.

Though it stopped accepting new interments in the 1920s, the catacombs have continued to be a popular tourist destination in Palermo and even serve as something of a historical record of the area. Some of the interred have even become well known in death, such as two-year-old Rosalia Lombardo. One of the last corpses admitted in the catacombs, Rosalia is a unique addition considering the excellent preservation state of her body. Though her mummification is credited to Dr. Alfredo Salafia, no one is quite sure what techniques he used to achieve such dramatic results and it is believed that he never shared his knowledge with others. Today, Rosalia is encased in a glass coffin and aside from an unnatural skin tone, generally looks as if she is only resting which has led to her being dubbed "Sleeping Beauty."

A special thanks to Dark Destinations contributor Dementia for adding The Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo to our database and bringing this rather unique location to our attention!

Visit her article on The Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo.

-Casey H.

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