Corleone is a small town situated on a hill about 500 meters above sea level in the province of Palermo in western Sicily. The town is best known for its churches and for its connection with some of the most powerful families of the mafia.
This mafia asociation explains why the name Corleone was used by the lead character in the 'Godfather' film.
The Mafia and The Godfather
Of course many visitors come to Corleone because of its mafia history and "Godfather' connections. After the Second World War Corleone was indeed a stronghold of the Italian mafia and a number of Mafia bosses come from the town including Tommy Gagliano, Giuseppe Morello, Luciano Leggio, Bernardo Provenzano and Salvatore "Toto" Riina.
The Mafia connections of Corleone were then imortalized in Mario Puzo's best selling novel 'The Godfather' which became a film classic with Francis Ford Coppola's film. In the book and film the main character Vito Corleone takes the name of the village and was born and raised here. Due to the town's development actual filming took place in Savoca and Forzà de Agro on the east of Sicily.
Corleone has now thrown off its Mafia past. Mafia bosses Bernardo Provenzano and Salvatore Toto Riina are in jail and Corleone has an excellent Anti-Mafia Museum, the CIDMA museum (Centro Internazionale di Documentazione sulla Mafia e del Movimento Antimafia). The museum features documents of the anti-mafia trials, photographs of events connected to the mafia and photographs of mafia bosses and those bringing them to justice.
Another anti-mafia museum is the Laboratorio della Legalità which is housed in the confiscated home of Bernardo Provenzano! The museum is dedicated to the anti-mafia magistrate Paolo Borsellino who was assassinated in 1992. It features the excellent, brightly coloured paintings of Gaetano Porcasi which recount the massacres and murders of the mafia days.
Corleone town and churches
There is a famous motto that describes Corleone as "the city of one hundred churches" - the description is correct, both in religious and artistic terms, and the artistic heritage of the town is concentrated in its churches and the artworks they contain.
The most important of the religious buildings in Corleone is the Mother Church, dedicated to Saint Martin and built in the late 14th century. This Church has been restructured several times, and it holds some important works of art such as the marble baptistry of the Gagini school (16th century), the wooden choir by Giuseppe Li Volsi (16th century), and a frontal altar cloth embroidered in gold on red cloth.
The altars in the Mother Church have some important paintings by Fra’ Felice da Sambuca [Gioacchino Viscosi] (1734-1805), one depicting "The Miracle of St. Bernardo resurrecting a man run down by horses" (1768) and the other “The miracle of Bernardo resurrecting a drowned man” (1768).
Among the sculptures are a wooden statue of St. Sebastian and St. Philip of Agira, in gilded wood, and a carved work of the "Madonna dell'Itria", attributed to Ferraro and Buttafuoco and probably dating from the end the 16th century. The sacristy is especially rich in important works with works dating from the 16th and 17th centuries such as the "Holy Family" by Girolamo Paladino.
Also dating from the 16th century in Corleone is the Church of Santa Rosalia, which contains a valuable painting by Velasquez (1599-1660), a prominent figure of Sicilian painting in the 17th century who studied at the Neo-classical Roman School. "St. John and the Adoration of the Shepherds" and the "Nativity" by Vito D'Anna (1718-1769), the "Mary Magdalene", attributed to Gioacchino Martorana (18th century), and two paintings from 1798 by Isidoro Gallo, "Saint Leoluca and San Gregorio" are also notable.
The “Madonna of the Chain” is the work of an unknown 19th century painter, while the “Death of Saint Benedict” is by Pietro Novelli. The temple also holds the so-called "Crucifix of the Chain", perhaps dating from the thirteenth century, which is particularly venerated by the people of Corleone.
The Church of San Domenico is divided into three naves, and contains many paintings dating from the 18th and 19th centuries including the 19th century painting of "Saint Thomas Aquinas".
The origins of the Church of St. Augustine date back to the 14th century but it was rebuilt in Baroque times. Inside there is an important work of Giuseppe Ribera (1591-1652) depicting the “Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew.”
Other Corleone monuments
Notable civic monuments in Corleone include the 19th century palaces, such as the Provenzano Palace, the Cammarata Palace with its bell tower, and the ruins of the “Castello Soprano” with the Saracen Tower and “Rocca Sottana” .
The Pippo Rizzo Civic Museum exhibits archaeological finds from the area.
On the edge of town there is an attractive waterfall, the Cascata delle Due Rocche however note that in the summer it will probably be dried up.
No visit to Corleone would be complete without exploring the surrounding region. The natural areas include many nature reserves of which the largest are Carcaci, Monte San Genuardo and Ficuzza (the game reserve of King Ferdinand III of Bourbon, 1753-1815).
Here in 1803 Giuseppe Venanzio Marvuglia (1729-1814) built a hunting lodge, a building set against the backdrop of the limestone walls of the fortress Busambra at the foot of the wood, near the small village of Ficuzza. It is now possible to make excursions here by foot and by bicycle.
Inside the Nature Reserve of Monte San Genuardo and in the territory of Contessa Entellina is the Abbey of Santa Maria del Bosco.
Exploring this area, so rich in scenery and history, you certainly can't miss the chance to enjoy the typical products of Sicily and of Corleone. In particular try the Corleone variety of tomatoes which are cut in half and hung on racks to dry in the sun, then preserved in olive oil, to be eaten later.
Also good is the wine of Corleone, ideal to accompany dishes like the classic "caponata", pasta with squid ink, the macaroni with sardines, Catalan salad, “carpaccio” of octopus and swordfish rolls.
Of course if you are in this area you must visit the fabulous city of Palermo on the northern coast of Sicily.
See also Corleone history and etymology.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Sicily guide.