Grotta dei Beati Paoli


Useful Information

Location: Via Sedie Volanti, 47, 90134 Palermo. Accessible from the Vicolo degli Orfani.
(38.117048, 13.355596)
Open: On special open days 19-21, tours every 30 min.
[2021]
Fee: Adults EUR 6.
[2021]
Classification: SubterraneaSubterranea Museum
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension:
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Luigi Natoli (1910): I Beati Paoli, published in installments in the "Giornale di Sicilia". Italiano - Italian
Pietro Todaro (1998): La riscoperta della grotta dei Beati Paoli,
In book: Interventi di recupero nel Centro Storico di Palermo (pp.279-284)
Chapter: La grotta dei Beati Paoli
Publisher: Assessorato al Centro Storico del Comune di Palermo
Editors: Ursuka Staacke, Giuseppe Di Benedetto academia.edu researchgate
Address: Grotta dei Beati Paoli, Vicolo degli Orfani, 90134, Palermo, Tel: +39-320-2267975.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

17-DEC-1704 Giuseppe Amatore of the Setta dei Beati Paoli sentenced to death.
27-APR-1723 Girolamo Ammirata of the Setta dei Beati Paoli hanged.
1790 described by the Marquis of Villabianca in his famous Opuscoli Palermitani.
1873 desctription by Bruno Arcano in his Sopra una pagina di storia municipale.
1889-1890 desctription by Vincenzo Di Giovanni in his La topografia antica di Palermo dal X al XV secolo.
1909-1910 Luigi Natoli writes a historical fiction novel under the pseudonym William Galt.
1940 description by Antonio Salerno in his Palermo sotterranea.
1998 municipality of Palermo commissioned the geologist Pietro Todaro to explore the cave.

Description

The Grotta dei Beati Paoli (Cave of Beati Paoli) is actually not a cave, it is most likely an underground structure which is called camera dello scirocco (chamber of the sirocco). The scirocco is the hot wind in summer, and those chambers were artificial underground structures which were naturally cooler during the hot summer. So the actually built cellars to spend the hottest days of the year in the coolness of the underground. This is quite common in Palermo and such cellars can be found under most residences of the upper society.

The cave is a circular room with a diameter of 8 m, it has a well and a semicircular seat. The opening in the ceiling is in the center of the vault and has a diameter of about 60 cm. It provides fresh air and a little light to the cave. Two narrow tunnels lead to other caves. The cave is accessible through a crypt in the church of Santa Maria di Gesù al Capo which is also called Santa Maruzza ri Canceddi. A second entrance is located at the vicolo degli Orfani, a narrow passage between houses behind the church. Here are long tunnels which are 2 m high and 1.5 m wide along the vicolo degli Orfani. They are connected by wells to the Calasanzio school, the headquarters of the Liceo Scientifico Statale Cannizzaro until 1955, to the Istituto Tecnico per Geometri Parlatore, to the Palazzo Geraci, the church San Matteo and the Monastero delle Vergini. According to legend it is also connected to a passage to the catacombs of the Cappuccinelle in via Papireto and from there to the catacombs of Porta d’Ossuna. In historical documents the access from the palace of Baron Blandano, Palazzo Baldi Blandano, in Via Beati Paoli, 35, is described. The cave is accessed from the first floor through a small door.

The cave was named after the Setta dei Beati Paoli, a secret sect which was famous for their revenge actions against the nobles who abused their power over the poor people. This cave was quite useful for a secret group which could cross the city underground without being seen. The legendary group, named "Blessed Paul" after the Apostle Paul, was used by the mafia as a sort of legitimization of their illegal activities. Until today, they see themselves as legitimate successors of this group.

«From the first floor of the entrance to this house, passing through a small door, a small open beam, in which a low woody tree rises, and the floor on which you walk is nothing more than the layer of a very wide vault, which covers the cave below.
In the center of the vault there is an eye with an iron grate that serves as a crack and light to the underground cave. In this descent for five rocks of rustic stone that I make present you in a small dark room with a table in the middle, from here you entered the main cave where there is a very large room with seats all around and with the comfort of a quarry or both niches and shelves in which both iron and fire weapons were placed.»
Marquis of Villabianca, Opuscoli Palermitani, 1790

During World War II, the cave was used as an air raid shelter by the inhabitants of the adjacent houses. The municipality of Palermo lately commissioned the geologist Pietro Todaro to explore the cave. As a result the cave was restored and opened to the public. It now contains a sort of exhibition on the legends of the Beati Paoli. Despite the renovation, the electric light, and the exhibition, the caves have currently no regular open hours, but they are opened every year for a few days on certain occasions. They are visited on guided tours and the visitors are equipped with a helmet.