Viewing these chambers where the corpses of some 8,000 souls in various stages of preservation hang from walls and recline in open caskets might require some attitude adjustment. It would be easy to write the spectacle off as eerie (which it certainly is) or even a bit vampy, but for the deceased and the loved ones they left behind a spot here provided a bit of comforting immortality. In 1599, the occupants of the adjoining Capuchin monastery discovered that the bodies of the brothers they placed in their catacombs soon became naturally mummified, and Sicilians began demanding to be buried along with them. Wearing their Sunday best, the dead are grouped according to sex and rank—men, women, virgins, priests, nobles, professors (possibly including the painter Velasquez, though his presence here is questionable), and children. This last grouping includes the most recent resident, 2-year-old Rosalia Lombardo, who died in 1920 and who locals have dubbed “Sleeping Beauty.” Giuseppe Tommasi, prince of Lampedusa and author of one of the best-known works of Sicilian literature, “The Leopard,” was buried in the cemetery next to the catacombs in 1957. His great-grandmother, the model for the Princess in the novel, is in the catacombs.
- Frommer's Staff