One of the most famous sights in Palermo—albeit a rather macabre one—is the extensive network of catacombs under the city’s historic Capuchin Monastery. The subterranean Capuchin Catacombs (Catacombe dei Cappuccini) are home to thousands of mummified remains in varying states of preservation dating from the 16th to 20th centuries.
A small entrance fee is required to visit the Capuchin Catacombs. A stop here is included on some Palermo sightseeing tours, with the sight sometimes paired with a visit to the Monreale Cathedral. Visiting with a tour guide is the best way to understand the catacombs’ historical and religious significance.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The catacombs are dark and often slightly humid, and may not be a suitable attraction for everyone—especially children or anyone who is claustrophobic.
- Taking photographs inside and touching the remains is prohibited—iron grills have been installed to protect the mummies.
- The underground catacombs are not accessible to wheelchairs.
How to Get There
The Capuchin Catacombs are located beneath the Capuchin Monastery on Piazza Cappuccini in central Palermo. It’s about a 15-minute walk to the monastery from the city’s historic center.
When to Get There
The Capuchin crypts are open daily but closed on Sunday afternoons in winter. As one of the most important catacombs in Italy, the sight can get crowded in summer, so plan to visit in the early morning or late afternoon to experience the eerie atmosphere in peace and quiet.
History of the Capuchin Catacombs
The Capuchin friars began burying the deceased in crypts beneath the monastery in the 16th century. They soon discovered that the unique conditions in the catacombs combined with their own burial rituals preserved the bodies extremely well, and it wasn’t long before being buried in the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo—and therefore being preserved after death—was a status symbol and Sicilians began requesting this in their wills. Today, 1,252 mummified bodies remain divided among chambers dedicated to Capuchin monks, priests, virgins, professionals, women, men, and children, all encased in coffins or propped in poses. One of the last bodies to be placed in the catacombs is also the most famous: 2-year-old Rosalia Lombardo, who looks today as if she was just put down for a nap—though she’s been dead since 1920.