Sicily’s Mafia Past: the Corleonesi Clan

Client: Back-Roads Touring

Residing high in the mountains and nestled in an enclosure of calcified rock is the little Sicilian town of Corleone. Amid it’s pretty, idyllic, Mediterranean exterior, this town of 12,000 inhabitants has a coloured history that has been immortalised in popular fiction through the award-winning film The Godfather, and its portrayal of the Mafia in Corleone. This evokes images of dapper gents, silver-tongued mobsters, larger than life bravado, and slick organised crime. While the Hollywood stories paint a romanticised picture, they are not pure invention. Corleone has lived under decades of Mafia rule, a period characterised by protection rackets, oppression and harsh justice. But, it is in recent times that we’ve seen the pendulum shift as anti-mob movements have taken rise are now a part of the Corleone fabric.

The History of the Mafia in Sicily

The rise of the Mafia can be traced back to the early 19th century, a period where the Italian states were torn asunder by perpetual wars, foreign and internal. This was back before Italy was unified, leaving many of the states ripe for the picking as was the case in northern Italy which was virtually under the control of the Austrian Empire. During this period, nationalistic grumbles would grow into full blown revolts. In Sicily, this culture of lawlessness would give way to the rise of wealthy families that would take reigns of the state by subverting the government and fostering monopolies on capital and authority.


In 1860 Italy was unified and the new Italian government would attempt to wrestle control of Sicily from the Mafia with little success. The Mafia had become a symbol of order in a period of anarchy, and their brand of governance resonated with the people who lived through Sicily’s historically unorganised legal and inept political systems. Those who opposed to the Mafia’s ways of running things would find themselves threatened or eliminated, so naturally, it became normalised and soon enough Mafiosi would find themselves in Rome debating political policy.

Contemporarily, the Mafia are a loose collection of families that abide by a common code of conduct. They each have sovereign control of slithers of territory, and in many of these places, they operate through protection rackets, smuggling, and bribery, to fund their nefarious deeds.  

Sights in Corleone

  • Il Laboratorio Della Legalità – The Anti-Mafia Museum

Ironically housed in the home of former Corleone mob boss, Bernardo Provenzano, this museum is a graphic tapestry of paintings and photos that accentuate the morbid reality of Mafia rule. It is a sombre and authentic experience that doesn’t shy away from the from detail, this is accentuated by the thoughtful inclusion of a bookshelf of bound volumes from the famous maxi-trials. This stirring image sets the tone for the rest of the museum giving the more artistic works a necessary degree of credence.  

Traversing the halls, you’ll find evocative photos and pictures which show the crimes of the mafia in their most raw form. These are underscored by more colourful paintings which are wonderfully juxtaposed against the scenes they show.

  • Ornate Churches and Beautiful Countryside vistas

Corleone is rich in religious heritage and doesn’t shy away from letting you know. This town is home to some incredibly decorative and picturesque places of worship, as the skyline is typified by ornate churches that dominate rooftops and glow in the Mediterranean sun. One of the most striking is the Mother Church which was built in the 14th century as a tribute to Saint Martin

For those who enjoy hiking, there are also some incredible natural and archeologic finds, like the La Cascata delle Due Rocche which is a spectacular waterfall that cascades down from a jagged precipice of rock and brush. As if that not enough, the are is also rich in archaeological artefacts and great ruins, such as Castello Soprano which hosts the skeleton remains of a Saracen castle from the 11th century.


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