Ancient origins of Corleone

Many assumptions have been proposed to explain the origins of Corleone, especially in earlier centuries. One of the most seductive was that Corleone was the direct descendant of the ancient city of “Schera”, even mentioned even by Homer in the 9th century BC:

“So god-like Nausithous | had taken them away and led them off to settle | in 'Scheria', far from any men who have to work | to earn their daily bread. He'd had them build a wall | around the city, put up homes, raise temples | to the gods, and portion out the land for farming” [1].

In the 19th century, one of the strong supporters of the identification of Corleone with Schera, besides Cluverio (1580-1622), was Niccolò Maggiore, who wrote: "[...] We know from Thucydides that on the western side of Sicily,  (...) the Greeks established only Imera. The others were founded by the Phoenicians or by the Siculians.

We also certainly know that there were three Phoenician cities (Mozia, Solunto and Palermo) and the others towns were from the Sicanians. So it is reasonable to state that Schera was a Sicanian town. Later the Sicanians, the first inhabitants of Sicily after the Cyclops but scared by the terrible eruptions of Mount Etna, began to abandon the island's eastern side:

(...) they settled in the western part where they built several high fortresses. The people always settled on hillsides where they could find fortified shelter against the Siculians (...) In this place certainly the Sicanians founded Schera [...]" [2].

We note that, in essence, Niccolò Maggiore hit the mark, because the most reliable contemporary studies, after a series of thorough investigations that have involved many local scholars, have concluded that Schera was presumably located near Corleone, on a hill known as the “Montagna Vecchia” ["Old Mountain"], as appears from preliminary studies by M.I. Gulletta [3]

F. Maurici notes that "the oldest town is traditionally located on the mountain known as “La Vecchia” [4]. It was here that the ancient Schera mentioned by Ptolemy (3, 4, 14) was located.

More recent history of Corleone

With regard to the current town of Corleone in the strictest sense, its history dates back to the Arab, Norman and Swabian domination of the area, especially Frederick II of Swabia (1194-1250). In fact, F. Maurici writes that "the foundation of Corleone on its current site can perhaps go back to the settlement of a group of Lombards to whom the territory was granted in 1237 by Frederick II." [4].

Corleone was in fact occupied by the Arabs in the 9th century and then called, as evidenced by Michele Amari, “Karùb.” So Al Idrisi (1099-1165) described it: [...] Corleone, a castle and fortress solidly built, and well equipped (…) This location, bathed by the homonymous river, is situated eight miles from Raia, five from Giato and  - eastward – ten from Prizzi. [...]" [5]

As 11th century writer Al Idrisi pointed out, the Arabs greatly fortified the town. However, in 1072 the Normans conquered Corleone a few years after seizing Palermo with Count Roger (1031-1101) and it was enclosed within the boundaries of the diocese of Palermo.

Most people of Corleone in Norman times were Muslims, usually of the Berber race, as evidenced by the name of the old hamlet close to Corleone, "al-Rahal Zanati" or the "cliff" or the hamlet of "Zanatah" from a Berber tribe [6]

In any case, the Arab relations with the Normans were always very difficult. The Arabs were forced to live in heavy bondage, and this implied rebellions, escapes of countrymen and banditry which brought the security and economy of the territory to ruin.

This situation of severe economic, political and social instability continued even under the Swabians, and indeed Muslims fiercely opposed to Frederick II, who trated them with great strictness, offered control of the town to a group of "Lombardi" ("part de hominibus Lombardiae" [some warriors from Lombardy]) led by Odo of Camerana.

Although the town was commited to Corrado Peralta, it belonged to State property and therefore Frederick II recognized Corleone as being directly dependent on the 'Empire'.

The modern town layout of Corleone was laid out between the 14th and 16th century, when it was enriched by the urban civic and religious buildings, such as churches, convents and numerous confraternities. Among these there were those of the Capuchins, who settled in Corleone in the second half of the 16th century.

By the early 17th century Corleone boasted the Mother Church and "another 36 old churches, convents and two female monasteries of the Benedictine rule" [7].

Stepping back a little, at the beginning of the 14th century a long alliance began with Palermo in the War of the Sicilian Vespers against Anjou, followed by the wars between feudal lords. In the warfare that broke out between the Chiaromonte and the Palizzi, Corleone sided strongly with the Chiaromonte, the Lords of Palermo, inextricably linking its history to the capital city [8].

In modern times we can also record the rivalry between the great families of Corleone that originated during the uprising of 1516, in which two parties formed, headed by the noble families of the Maringo and the Firmaturi.

The latter was one of the most powerful families in Corleone in the struggle for primacy in the town, and it became even more powerful in the 18th century, coming "at the top of high society in the decades of the 18th century, on completation of a complex process of economic and social growth of the family" [9]

M. Verga states that "[...] a ruling class emerged (...) conscious and jealous of its history and its role as a governing class; in short, a portrait emerged of a  nobility very aware of her role and of the 'dignity' of her city, wanting to call it "Corleone" (Lionheart), instead of the vernacular name of 'Coniglione' (‘large rabbit’) [...]."

Recent history of Corleone

The 19th century in Corleone was marked by the participation of prominent citizens in the struggles of the “Risorgimento”, and by the landing of Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) in Sicily, with the presence of figures such as Baron Francesco Bentivegna (1820-1856) from Corleone, a fervent Mazzinian patriot, who organized an insurrection against the Bourbons.

In the early twentieth century, because of the conditions of exploitation of labour that arose in Sicily, the first group of the so-called “Fasci Siciliani” formed, as the harbingers of Italian socialism. They were led by Bernardino Verro (1866-1915). The struggle became particularly harsh in the area of Corleone, with the agricultural strike that took place between July and October 1893, when strikes broke out in the agricultural district of Corleone and then spread across western Sicily.

In the twentieth century, the name of Corleone gained much publicity because of issues related to organized crime, a topic that appears in the trilogy by Francis Ford Coppola [born 1939] called "The Godfather" and dedicated to the saga of the Corleone family, taken from a novel by Mario Puzo [1920-1999] ("Il Padrino").

Today, the town concentrates its efforts on the enhancement of the territory with a view to publicity and a relaunch of tourism. The other hand the artistic heritage of Corleone is truly remarkable and worthy of careful consideration.

Etymology and the origins of the name of Corleone - a big rabbit,

M. Verga approached the problem of etymology of Corleone by saying that the old name "Coniglione" (large rabbit) was changed to "dignify" the town, whereas M. Pasqualino noted that Corleone derived from "Cunigghiuni" [in Sicilian dialect, "Big Rabbit"], noting however that Lo Giudice derived the name of the town from a Greek word: "[...]".

According to Lo Giudice, Corleone derives from the Greek 'Kores' or 'Korìon', 'Koros', 'korion', or 'place or castle of lions', and this view is supported by (…) its insignia, depicting a lion with the heart in its hands [...]" [10]

G. Nania considred the place name of Corleone, and he made various assumptions based on a large amount of documents. In his final conclusions he seems to favor the Arab origin of Corleone (Kar’ lùn'), probably preceded by a Roman noble "Corilius", from which "Corleone" would originally have arisen [11]. F Maurici, and others accepted this assumption.

G.B. Pellegrini discards certain assumptions [such as the derivation of Corleone from "Corylus” (hazel), while he accepts the assumption that the name derives from ‘Corilius’, [which] is well known in some names such as 'Corigliano', and taken from the noble ‘Corius / Corrius’ " [12].

In fact, as we have seen, the change from "Cunigghiuni" to “Corleone” was a matter of prestige, and it is interesting to note the passage:

“The ‘Corileon’ form (Italian ‘Corleone’) is relatively recent, and it is especially significant that it appears in some Clauses granted to the town by Philip II (1527-1598) in 1556, in the first of which it asked and obtained the name of “Animosa civitas Corleonis” [Valiant town of ‘Corleone’] [13].

See also Corleone for details of visiting the town


1. See “The Odyssey”, Book six, 7-12

2. See Niccolò Maggiore, “Memorie sopra Schera città della Sicilia”, in “Giornale di scienze, lettere ed arti per la Sicilia” , Volume XI, Palermo, 1825: 85 ff.

3. M.I. Gulletta: “Schera per una storia della ricerca”, Gibellina, 1992: 379-394.

4. See F. Maurici, “Castelli medievali in Sicilia” ["Medieval castles in Sicily"], Sellerio, 1992: 213

5. See Al Idrisi, "The Book of Roger”

6. (See A. Varvaro, “Lingua e storia in Sicilia”, Sellerio, 1981: 84.

7. See E. Novis Chavarria, Recensioni e schede a “Quattro saggi su Corleone nel Seicento”, in “Mediterranea”, 2005: 586

8. See I. Mirazita, “La presenza lombarda nel tessuto sociale e urbano di Corleone”, in “El mon urbà a la Corona d'Aragò”, Actas Vol. II, XVII, 2000, pp. 251-254

9. See M.Verga, “La ‘Generosa’ Corleone. Materiali  per una storia culturale della città”, in “Mediterranea”, 2006: 265.

10. See M. Pasqualino, “Vocabolario siciliano etimologico”, Palermo, 1785: 384.

11. See G. Nania, “Toponomastica e topografia storica delle valli del Belice e dello Iato”["Toponomastic and Historical Topography of the Valley of the Belice and Iato], Barbaro, Palermo, 1995: 47.

12. See G.B. Pellegrini," Italian toponymy ", 1990, p. 293

13. See, “Archivio storico Siciliano”, 1878, Vol 3: 481