Position: 38°06’59″N 13°21’48″E
Palermo holds a central place in modern American mythology thanks to Mario Puzo, Francis Coppola and the rise (and fall) of the American Mafia. Founded in 734 BC, it is Sicily’s capital and its largest city.
Heading in from the waterfront you get a real sense of its Beaux Artes past. World War II swept across Sicily in 1943 and Palermo was heavily bombed. From what we could see, though, the bombers missed the centre. Today façades crumble and fallen stucco reveals the struggling heart of the city. Here and there signs of renovation and renewal are visible, but the grind of a decade of austerity has depressed meaningful investment.
The good news is Palermo is normally a hotspot for tourism. Some of its biggest draws are the open-air markets that Marlon talked about in his latest post. If you want to experience Sicilian life, and you’re hungry, then the markets are the place to go. Lively as it was, like everywhere we’ve been recently, Covid dampened the atmosphere. But we easily imagined happier times. Stalls thronged with sightseers rubbing shoulders with local shoppers, deliverymen, pickpockets, and hippie travellers, squeezing past each other in a hubbub of vendors calling and singing out their wares. It conjured memories of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
No Mafia Memorial
After snacking on some street tapas, we stopped to visit the dog friendly No Mafia Memorial, a small museum dedicated to telling the story of Italy’s battle with the Sicilian Mafia. Focused on the mid-1940s through to the conviction of several Mafia bosses in the 1990s, stories are told through photos, documents, and videos of key events.
The museum also mounted an exhibit on the life of Salvatore Giuliano, Sicily’s most notorious bandit. Ruthless and feared, Sicilian bandits were not members of the Mafia. Although they had their own pillage/ intimidation/ kidnapping/ murder gig that sometimes included doing jobs for the Mafia. Active in the 1940s, Giuliano rose to prominence in the power vacuum created by the Allied invasion and the subsequent routing of the Fascists.
He had dashing good looks and a Robin Hood reputation, stealing from the rich and sparing the poor. Having failed on at least two attempts to bring Giuliano in by force, the Italian government turned to good old treachery. They infiltrated his gang and convinced Giuliano’s closest friend to assassinate him in a double double cross. He was shot dead in his sleep in 1950, age 28. Giuliano’s story is the stuff of movies and books like, ‘The Sicilian’ by Mario Puzo.