Palermo: visiting the Mafia

Palermo City. The godfather is a godmother. A small, elderly, but resolute woman. She sits upright and wide awake in the outdoor dining area of a restaurant, directing the action.

Where to put the coke? Who ordered the coke? Who cashes out table 22? Antonio, have you walked the dog yet? – Whether it also gives instructions of a different kind? For example, the order to collect the quarter after table 22 and to collect the "pizzo", the protection money? Or to bring "love greetings" to undiscerning debtors? When you see her commanding her honorable family, you could almost think of her as "the Godmother". But: there are no women in the Cosa Nostra. At least that would be something new.

Palermo soon without Pizzo, the protection money?

Palermo and the Mafia – in the capital of Sicily, they belong together as closely as Pisa and the Leaning Tower. But there are also headwinds. The Adiopizzo movement, for example, is a thorn in the side of the Cosa Nostra. "Goodbye protection money" is the name of the idea, behind which about 400 pubs and stores have gathered. In the tourist office in Piazza Castelnuovo there are maps of the city in which these stores are listed.

Still about 80 percent of businessmen pay the pizzo. In the 80s it was still 100 percent. Between 1981 and 1983, an average of one mafia murder occurred every three days in Palermo. It was the time of the mafia wars. The state was largely powerless. In 1992, the prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were murdered near the city.

The turn came with Leoluca Orlando, the anti-Mafia mayor. Today, Palermo ranks 16th in Italian crime statistics. However, this is not necessarily a sign that there is less mafia in Palermo. On the contrary. Few robberies or thefts could also indicate that the Mafia has an iron grip on the small-time crooks. Small crimes do not bring anything to the honorable society. They only keep tourists away. And they are very welcome, because they spend money that indirectly ends up in the pockets of the Cosa Nostra through the protection money.

Welcome to Palermo A traditional market in Palermo. Not in a large square, but in narrow alleys

Palermo and its sights

If you want to get to know Palermo and its sights, the best way to get a first overview is to take a bus tour. From the Teatro Politeama double-decker buses run one-hour tours. Out or. You can get on at the sights that are visited. More about this can be found here:

The trick with the delayed bus

Sometimes you have to wait a little for the bus. The lady from the bus office has developed a clever stalling tactic for the tourists. She promises: the bus will be here in five minutes, stay here, don't ride with the competition. After 10 minutes, the first tourist asks where is the bus. Now the woman pretends to call the bus driver. "All bene!", she then announces, "The bus is on its way. It will be here soon."

It takes about five minutes before the next tourist approaches her and asks where the bus is. Again she is on the phone – or at least pretends to be. "All is well: the bus is already very close. It stands around the corner, so to speak. The traffic is a bit slow, but any moment the bus must arrive." Until the bus is actually there, about 20 minutes pass in this way. But all tourists wait in joyful expectation and do not migrate to the competition.

Palermo – a city waiting for its redevelopment

The alternative to the bus would be walking. And that is not an alternative, because in the 650.000 inhabitants, there are no pedestrian zones, but there are lots of cars. The traffic is noisy and chaotic.

The city was badly damaged during the Second World War. Instead of putting all their energy into the reconstruction of the old town, cheap housing estates were built on the outskirts of the city. The center of the city fell into disrepair. Only mayor Orlando initiated serious restoration measures. In 1997, for example, the Teatro Massimo was reopened, one of the largest opera houses in Europe. But Palermo could not completely free itself from the cities of decay, garbage and dirt. This side has long been attached to the city. Goethe already asked in 1787: "Where does the uncleanliness of your city come from??"A question, to which one has also today no right answer.

Palermo, granary of the world

Palermo has been at the center of conflicts even before the mafia wars and the Second World War. Since ancient times, Sicily with its fertile land was considered the breadbasket of the world. Around 800 A.D. the Arabs dominated this granary. In 1072 the Normans conquered the city under Roger I. the city. Even today you can see this development in the Arabic-Byzantine-Norman style mixture in the architecture. For example at the summer residence LaZisa or the churches SanGiovanni degli Eremiti and San Cataldo.

Arabic-Norman style mix

The cathedral appears as an Arabic-Norman style mix with a classicistic dome. It was originally a cathedral. Then a mosque. Then again a cathedral. Constant renovations have left their mark. This building seems indecisive, caught in different worlds.

Inside there are royal tombs to visit. Below, the sarcophagus of Staufenkaiser Friedrich II. Worth seeing? At most for people who can find tombs beautiful. For such people Palermo has even more to offer. In the catacombs of the Capuchin convent in Piazza Cappuccini. Here there are over 1.200 mummies of monks and inhabitants to look at.

Orto Botanico: for Goethe the most wonderful place in the world

Much fresher and worth seeing is this sight in Palermo: the Botanical Garden. The "Orto Botanico" is the "most wonderful place of the world", Goethe stated almost euphorically. Who would have thought that his "Verweile doch, du bist so schon" from Faust II would be pronounced in Palermo of all places. Over 12.000 plant species to marvel at. Also worth seeing are the trees in the Giardino Garibaldi, a small park in front of Palazzo Chiaramonte. Here grow the largest fig trees in Europe. On WowPlaces there is a separate report about it. Click here.

More sights and tips in Palermo

Monte Pellegrino: the most beautiful view. Probably the most beautiful view of the city is from Monte Pellegrino. Palermo's 606 meter high local mountain is also a place of pilgrimage. The bones of the patron saint Rosalia were found here. In 1625 a church was therefore built on the mountain.

Fontana Pretoria: the most beautiful square. The Fontana Pretoria is a massive Renaissance fountain surrounded by statues. River gods, mythical figures, saints and heroes. By the way: the square becomes even more interesting when you know that there is free WiFi here.

Mercato della Vucciria: the most beautiful and oldest market. Located in the old town, between Piazza San Domenico and the harbor. Many different stalls line the streets here. There are fresh seafood, fruits, vegetables, clothes, detergents, wine and so on. The market has lost its luster in recent years, but it is still worth seeing and exudes a unique atmosphere. If you want to get a feeling for Palermo, you have to be here.

Where to find the best ice cream in Palermo?

Everywhere: the most delicious ice cream. Palermo is famous for its delicious ice cream. And its exotic varieties, such as "red wine", "dates" and "cactus".

Mondello: the most beautiful bathing beach. Mondello is a suburb of Palermo. Blue sea, fine sand, historic villas – here you can swim wonderfully.

Conclusion: Palermo is a city you have to get involved with. A city that struggles with its image as a mafia stronghold, but has charming and worth seeing highlights to offer. The visit is worthwhile.

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