Corleone’s Complicated History


Mafia and anti-mafia tours attract visitors

In the midst of central Sicily’s rugged landscape lies Corleone, an idyllic town that’s become a mecca for mafia tourism. Corleone is the birthplace of ruthless bosses Bernardo Provenzano and Salvatore Riina. It’s also the namesake and home of Hollywood’s most memorable mafia don, Don Vito Corleone of The Godfather, though the film was actually shot in the nearby towns Savoca and Forza d’Agro. But the town’s allure continues to attract visitors from all over the world.

Tour of Sicily, a Palermo tour agency, takes visitors to the family homes of the late Provenzano and Riina. “Tourists can request a private itinerary and meet with a local who personally knows these families,” says guide Vincenzo Cicerano. Angelo Provenzano, son of Bernardo Provenzano, participates in the tours. As part of his involvement, he describes growing up under surveillance as the authorities spied on his father, who later spent years on the run until he was caught and arrested in 2006. Visitors can even see the shed where Provenzano hid undiscovered for years.

But the popularity of mafia tourism has made some of the local population uneasy, and they’ve responded with their own tours. Addiopizzo, an anti-mafia cooperative and NGO, offers a walking tour of the town that focuses on “Corleone’s current resistance movement while providing historical background” according to Edoardo Zaffuto, member of the cooperative and tour guide. “Stops are made in piazzas and side-streets named after activists who have been killed in the resistance against the mafia.”

Included in the tour is a visit to the Mafia Museum, which houses the bulk of Corleone’s archives on local organized crime. Kristina Madonia, a former guide at the museum, says,  “Many of the guides there are locals and thus have a unique perspective as they have grown up at the centre of it all.” Among the museum’s most noteworthy items are duplicates of transcripts from the “Maxi Trials,” in which important members of the Cosa Nostra were sentenced to life imprisonment, resulting in the first public recognition of the clan.

Works by two Sicilian photographers, Letizia Battaglia and her daughter (known simply as Shobha) are in the museum’s permanent collection. Madonia says that Battaglia worked in the ’70s, which were “some of the bloodiest years on the island” and documented stirring scenes of bodies sprawled at the sites of mafia killings. Shobha’s work portrays individuals affected by the mafia, many of whom are relatives or wives of clan members. “Visitors often expect a glorified or Hollywood version of the Sicilian mafia before they see the museum, but end up getting the real stuff,” says Madonia.

Leoluca Trombaturi, president of Galleria Corleone and Tours, promotes an all-encompassing education of the town’s history or what he calls “Corleone’s 360 degrees of history.” On his tours, Trombaturi exposes the roots of the mafia and the beginnings of its connection with European politics. Trombaturi, who comes from a long lineage of Corleonese, leads tourists past the town’s old prison where a number of mafiosi were held over the decades. He recounts stories of his great-grandfather Bernardo, who was a town ranger between 1930 and 1959. “At this time Corleone was referred to as ‘Tombstone Town.’…There were about 29 rangers and my great-grandfather was one of the only seven to survive.”

Carlo Russo, author of The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide, believes that the “somewhat morbid curiosity” people have about the mafia is a viable way to dig deeper. “Being interested in the mafia does not make you pro-mafia,” he says and suggests tourists visit sites where some of these dramatic killings have taken place because “one can’t help but be moved.” It is the town’s cemetery, he points out, which remains the town’s focal point. “It is interesting from both the mafia and anti-mafia perspective: you find memorials to famous activists as well as famous bosses.”