Palermo was never a ‘must see’ location for us on this trip, however as we were passing right by, we decided to have a quick wander around.
The one attraction that Risa really, really wanted to see was the underground crypts at Catacombe dei Cappuccini. She doesn’t know why she was so drawn to visit this collection of semi-mummified corpses – she’s a strange girl at times. We’d arrived right at the end of their midday siesta, so there was quite a crowd that had gathered waiting for the gates to reopen at 3PM. Thankfully, after the initial crowding, we were able to get some quiet space by taking a different path.
It was a strange experience to be in a group of tourists that are hustling through some underground caverns filled with the skin and bones of people who died more than 150 years ago. There were hundreds of corpses, and they truly ranged in composition from pure bones and scraps of thread, to corpses with recognisable facial features and even facial hair.
The crypts were segregated into different areas for different social standings and genders, including a premium position for virgins. The most famous of all the ‘exhibitions’ was a young girl, who from a few meters away appeared to be sleeping, even though she died over a century ago. I’m not squeamish, or concerned about the afterlife or ghosts. I was just a little concerned that we were all breathing in decayed tissue matter – if there was any left to decay.
I was already on edge about Palermo, after a word of warning from a friend who had visited and had been violently threatened for money after venturing from the main street after dark. So, when we finally found a park closer to the centre of town, only to be approached by a group of men demanding we pay them money for parking fees. I ignored them, and attempted to buy a parking ticket from the nearby newsagent, only to find that due to it being a Saturday, we didn’t need one!
The main thing that caught my interest in Lonely Planet was the Ballaro Street Market. I don’t know if we got lost, or if our timing was out, but all we saw were the stares of people tracking our movement. Oh, and some stalls selling fruit/vegetables/fish.
We continued in towards the centre of town, where we found a most beautifully ornate traffic intersection, Piazza Vigliena. Each corner of this junction was decorated with elaborate columns and statues, and I started to see that there was a little more to Palermo other than some corpses and threatening faces.
As we continued towards Massimo Theatre, the other attraction that I was interested in, the road became closed to vehicles, and was instead filled with pedestrians – most of them teenagers. The density only increased until we reached Massimo Theatre, which I sadly didn’t photograph, as it was impossible for me to capture the scale and elegance of the building. I’d hoped to be able to catch a performance while we were in town, but a quick search before we left showed there wasn’t really anything that we’d be interested in seeing.
I grabbed yet another pizza for dinner (2.5/5), and Risa went for fried seafood – which looked disappointing to me, but was pretty satisfying for her. We were tired, hungry, and the few highly rated restaurants that we attempted to eat at were still shut, so we made do with one catering for tourists like us.
I didn’t really have much love for Palermo, but Risa loved how rough and undeveloped the place was. Once she put it like that, I started to feel a little differently. It had character, and it was original. It was also quite dirty in some areas – and very dirty in others.
It’s hard for me to recommend anything longer than an afternoon in Palermo, however, as that was all we spent here, I don’t know how much we missed out on seeing. I’m just happy that we’re not spending the night in town, and instead opting for a little igloo/bungalow an hours drive away.