Europe & Britain | People & Stories

The anti-mafia walking tour challenging how visitors perceive Palermo

The Mafia wars of the 1990s marked a turning point for the Sicilian capital, Palermo. The people had had enough and, after the deaths of two prominent judges, they wanted serious change. We spoke to Palermo tour guide Francesca, who grew up in the city’s heart, about the civil anti-mafia movement, the cultural revolution, and what life feels like in Palermo today. 

On tours to Sicily, lucky Trafalgar guests join a MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® walking tour and hear about the darkest chapters of Palermo’s gritty history and the organised crime network, Cosa Nostra. Since 2004, the grass-roots movement, Addiopizzo, has been fighting the 200 years of mafia existence through cultural activities, collective responsibility, solidarity and social justice.

Let’s hear from tour guide Francesca about what the real Palermo is like, and how the walking tour in Italy is challenging stereotypes.

Francesca from Addiopizzo tours in Palermo, Sicily

Tell us about the Palermo walking tour

“The Palermo No Mafia tour is a three-hour walking tour in the historic centre of Palermo where guests will learn about the mafia and the history of the civil anti-mafia movement in Sicily. Our goal is to go beyond the clichés and stereotypes, giving our guests insights into how the mafia really works and has worked in the past. We take time to remember what many people have done to fight it, even sacrificing their lives.” – Francesca

On the Palermo walking tour Trafalgar guests will wander through the beautiful city centre, past historic sights including the Teatro Massimo, the open-air market Il Capo, Piazza della Memoria (a memorial dedicated to prosecutors and judges killed by the Mafia), Piazza Beati Paoli, the Cathedral, City Hall and Piazza Petroria. Each stop is a chance to reflect and learn about the mafia and the civic movement against Mafioso power. 

GET INSPIRED BY: Best of Italy & Sicily

What is your favourite moment on the walking tour?

“Surely one of the most significant moments is to tell guests how our association, Addiopizzo, started and its constant commitment to the fight against racketeering mafia extortion.”

On the walking tour you’ll meet shopkeepers who have said “no” to paying the pizzo (mafia protection fee). You’ll hear about how Addiopizzo offers support and solidarity to them, and the ethical marketing campaign helping small business. Trafalgar guests learn how to be ethical consumers in Palermo and support businesses that rebel against the mafia.

RELATED BLOG: Beyond Venice and Rome: Explore these off-the-beaten-track Italian towns with Trafalgar

What question do people ask you the most?

“People like to ask: ‘Have you or the other members of the association ever been threatened?’. What surprises guests the most, is that the Mafia hasn’t retaliated against the association or the entrepreneurs on the list.”

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What is your favourite Palermo dish and where should we eat it?

“Sicilian cuisine and, in particular, Palermitana is really one of the best you can try. Surely the main characteristics of the Sicilian culinary tradition are: authenticity, abundance, quality and variety. There are so many dishes to try from the classic cannoli to arancina to Sicilian street food in general.

“My favourite dish is the eggplant rolls, and I recommend guests try them at Antica Focacceria San Francesco. This is one of the oldest restaurants in Palermo and it is famous for its street food.”

The walking tour ends at Focacceria San Francesco. Trafalgar guests will hear from the owners about they found the courage to speak out against extortion and there is the option to stay for lunch. 

GET INSPIRED BY: Colours of Sicily

Is it safe to visit Palermo now? What is the feeling on the streets?

“Palermo is a large city and, like all others, is home to both good and bad people. You can feel a clear difference now compared to 30 years ago, when things were tense and complex. Now Palermo feels quiet and safe. 

“Beyond stereotypes, Palermo offers a cradle of culture: artistic, architectural and culinary, which has no equal.”

Are you excited to join a walking tour and uncover the real Palermo? Let us know in the comments if Sicily is high on your travel bucket list….

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