A unique cultural heritage


The conservation status of the countless corpses exposed make the cemetery of the Convent of the Capuchin Friars, known as the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, one of the most impressive places to visit in the world.

A macabre spectacle that brings out the uses, customs and traditions of the Palermo society from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century.

A unique cultural heritage that in many centuries has attracted and fascinated onlookers from all over the world, including many intellectuals, poets and writers such as Alexandre Dumas, Mario Praz, Guy de Maupassant, Fanny Lewald and Carlo Levi.

Le Catacombe dei Cappuccini di Palermo sorsero come luogo di sepoltura dei frati del convento ed il loro attuale sviluppo è, per certi versi, frutto del caso. I Frati Cappuccini si stabilirono a Palermo, presso la chiesa di Santa Maria della Pace, nel 1534. Avevano creato un cimitero in cui seppellire i propri confratelli scavando una fossa comune che si apriva, come una cisterna, sotto l’altare di Sant’Anna.

Soon, however, the Capuchin community grew and by 1597 the first room of the cemetery, the pit/tank, became insufficient. For this reason, excavations were begun to create a large cemetery behind the main altar, using the existence of ancient caves. After two years the new cemetery was ready and it was decided to transfer the brothers from the overflowing charnel house to the new resting place.  

However, when the friars exhumed the corpses something incredible had happened: forty-five friars were found naturally mummified and magnificently preserved. They had not decomposed and their faces were recognizable.

The Capuchins believed that this instance was an act of God and, instead of burying the remains, they decided to display and adored the bodies of their brothers as relics, propped in niches along the walls of the first corridor of the new cemetery.

The body that was first housed in the newly-created catacomb was that of Fra Silvestro da Gubbio, still exposed in a simple brown robe and headdress clutching a sign commemorating the event (16 Ottobre 1599).

Via Pindemonte

A place so evocative that did not remain insensitive even Ippolito Pindemonte, who visited the Catacombs of the Capuchins November 2, 1777 and wrote in the verses of his "Sepolcri":

The city of Palermo expressed gratitude to the illustrious poet, calling the road leading to the church of Santa Maria della Pace, and then to the cemetery, via Pindemonte.

"Death looks at them and it seems to have missed all shots."

Ippolito Pindemonte, 2 November 1777

Discover More

The Corridors

The mummies were arranged throughout the corridors by profession, sex and social status.

The History

The news of the 45 bodies found intact in the Capuchin convent attracted great attention.

The Techniques

Most of the bodies found in the Catacombs of Palermo were preserved naturally.