Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

We chase the scent of the Mafia in the hills of western Siciliy and visit Albanian speaking villages in the same region

article summary —

The old bus waits just off the square in Corleone, along from the hospital. In the front window of the bus, a barely legible sign shows the eventual destination as Palermo, about sixty kilometres away to the north on winding rural roads. The two carabinieri smoke and chat with the bus driver. All three men would prefer to be at home, and not to have to work this winter night in Sicily, when the rain pours and it is St Silvester. This is Corleone, a town that most people just drive through on their way from Palermo to the south coast. It's not a place to linger on this wet December evening.

This irregular plaza by the municipal park was renamed a few years ago when it became Piazza Falcone e Borsellino, so commemorating Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, two Palermo judges who were probing the pyramidal structure of the Sicilian Mafia. Digging too deeply for the men of Cosa Nostra to tolerate. Falcone and his family died on the highway at Capaci when a massive bomb was detonated with devastating effect. That was in May 1992, and today a distinctive monument, marking the site of the atrocity, stands beside the main motorway that runs west from Palermo. Two months after Falcone's assassination on the route out to the airport, there was another huge explosion, this time in Palermo's Via d'Amelio. Judge Paolo Borsellino, who had only recently returned to the Sicilian capital as Palermo's deputy chief prosecutor, was killed instantly. So too were five bodyguards.

Both men paid a high price for investigating the affairs of the clique of families which controlled much of what went on around Corleone, a web whose influence spread from Sicily to the Bronx and on to Chicago and the casinos of Nevada. For Corleone is the nondescript Sicilian town that gave its name to the protagonist in Mario Puzo's epic novel, The Godfather, and Francis Ford Coppola's masterful film trilogy.

Nowadays a couple of cafés in Corleone acknowledge the Godfather link, and on this wet night an old man who looks a little like Marlon Brando walks with the aid of a stick across the piazza. He seems not to agree with the move a decade ago to rename the square. But, for most of Corleone, there is a determination to move on, especially since the day when the Italian President visited and the names of about 400 victims of the Corleone mafia were read out in a simple ceremony on this open piazza. A local dentist now runs mafia tours of the town, and for truly dedicated followers of The Godfather, the one time home of Mafia boss Giovanni Brusca can now be rented out as a holiday villa. It is a substantial stone farmhouse set high about the Corleone Valley. Here and there, you'll find other Godfather allusions, such as the local trattoria that claims to have Clemenza's recipe for spaghetti sauce.

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About the authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.

This article was published in hidden europe 1.