by Nancy Kilpatrick and Hugues Leblanc
Palermo is an ancient city located at the north-west corner of Sicily, an enormous island south of Italy's mainland off the tip of the 'boot'. Populated with the descendants of Mediterranean stock, largely farmers, recent excavations indicate human activity on the island go as far back as the Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods. Palermo itself was founded by Phoenicians then passed to the Carthaginians, and by 354 BC was a Roman free town. Cut off from the mainland, the island has over time developed a unique style, and modern residents hang onto their traditions. Nowhere is this more evident than at the Capuchin Cemetery and Catacombs.
The cemetery and catacombs are part of a large complex which also houses the Capuchin Monastery, built in 1533. In 1623, the church that is part of the complex was remodeled, and restored again in the early 1900s. It contains works by sculptor Ignazio Marabiti, and is famous for its manuscript collection. Today, housing and heavy traffic surround a complex that was once on the outskirts of town. An open-air food market faces the parking lot.