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Travel Mythbusters: The Legend of the Sicilian Mafia

Photo taken by Kadras iš filmo „Krikštatėvis“.  

When talking about Sicily, we often hear: “Mob's paradise”, “the island of Mafia”, the “home of the Godfather” and hundreds of other epithets related to organised crime. It’s true, Sicily really was the bastion of criminals for decades, but with the era of tourism, the Mafia went underground and disappeared from the public eye, so don’t expect to see too many proud and dangerous young men in black suits.

On the other hand, even though criminals usually leave tourists alone, local businesses still suffer from extortion, and the European drug artery also stretches through Sicily. So if you come to this Italian island, keep your jokes and stories about the Mafia you’ve seen in movies to yourself – for Sicilians it’s like pouring salt on an open wound. The myths about elegant and sometimes even charming gangsters are, in reality, much more cruel and appalling. If you want to learn more about the activities of the Mafia and the cruel ways of Sicilian criminal organisations, we recommend you read the book Cosa Nostra: A history of the Sicilian Mafia by John Dickie.

Butcher sells meat on the local market in Palermo, called Ballaro. This market is also tourist attraction in Palermo
Photo taken by 123rf.com.  Butcher sells meat on the local market in Palermo, called Ballaro. This market is also tourist attraction in Palermo

Western pop culture and Hollywood have turned Mafia into a synonym for Southern Italy and Sicily. It’s no surprise that in their efforts to make more money, travel agencies and tour organisers use this symbol as a tourist attraction – “The land of the Mafia – Sicily” proclaim advertisements. Here you can go on tours that follow the paths of the mobsters – everything is presented as an interesting adventure, which cannot be had anywhere else in the world.

Once again, in reality, it’s a big problem for Sicily to this day, inhibiting its economic growth and causing a lot of anxiety and everyday troubles for the local people. If you don’t wish to promote the dirty business of the Mafia, try to lodge, eat and shop in places that don’t pay it any dues. To help you do this, take a look at the map drawn up by various NGOs and associations fighting its dictate. The map, as well as an entire anti-Mafia website for tourists, can be found here.

If you really want, you can order a tour around the former houses of the heads of the criminal organisation, now held in police custody, and the town of Corleone, which has become the symbol of the island’s mob due to the Godfather movies and bestselling books.

A man sitting on the bench and looking at the sea
Photo taken by 123rf.com.  A man sitting on the bench and looking at the sea

All of this aside, we recommend you spend your time learning about Sicilian culture, enjoying its excellent nature, fantastic food and the slow life tempo. The Mafia, with all its crimes and cruelty, is certainly not worth too much of your attention and it’s certainly not worthy of its status as the symbol of Sicily.

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