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  • Writer's pictureThe Sicilian Wanderer

The Girl Who Sleeps Forever: The Story of Rosalia Lombardo


the best preserved mummy in the world

The Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo. This is a place you have certainly heard of several times and we can assure you, it's worth visiting at least once in your lifetime. Perhaps the period near the Day of the Dead is the most suitable! But what curiosity are we talking about? We're talking about the body of Rosalia Lombardo, a 2-year-old girl, who has been in the Catacombs for over 100 years, skillfully embalmed, in perfect condition, and even seems to be on the verge of opening her eyes and coming back to life.


It's December 13, 1918. Mario Lombardo is an infantry officer who only on this day discovers what happiness is, true happiness. Maria di Cara, his partner, has just given birth to their first daughter, Rosalia. Mario and Maria are not married at the time of Rosalia's birth, but they are deeply in love. After 7 months from the birth of the child, they decide to get married, aware that they need to take this step to ensure serenity and tranquility for their family. Life continues happily for Mario and Maria. The two are more and more in love, leading a comfortable and peaceful life, and their little one grows up beautiful, healthy, and strong. Suddenly, however, fate plays a mocking trick on the couple. On December 6, 1920, just a few days after her second birthday, Rosalia dies.

Bronchopneumonia, diphtheria, typhoid fever - over the years, these have been the most common theories about Rosalia's death. Some researchers, who had the opportunity to study the girl's body, later discovered that it was most likely bronchopneumonia, dismissing the other theories. Coming to this conclusion was not difficult for them. In fact, Rosalia's body has perfectly preserved organs, and it can be seen that one lung is denser than the other, a clear sign that the child was actually suffering from bronchopneumonia.


But what happened to Rosalia's body after death?

Let's go back to December 6, 1920. We can only imagine the agony of Rosalia's parents. Losing a child is always a tragedy, and if it's a child of a few years of life, the tragedy is undoubtedly even greater and harder to bear. Perhaps this is why Rosalia's parents asked that the child's body be entrusted to Alfredo Salaria, one of the most famous embalmers of the 20th century, hoping in this way to pay tribute to the memory of the little one, taken away too young from life, with the hope of stopping the passage of time.


Alfredo Salaria arrived at the Lombardo couple's home, located in Piazza San Francesco di Paola, about 24 hours after the child's death. Thanks to his knowledge, he managed to create a mixture of chemicals that, applied to Rosalia's body, allowed it to be preserved in perfect condition until today.

The mixture used by Salaria included formalin, glycerin, zinc salts, alcohol, and other substances, whose dosage and application were studied in such a way as to preserve the skin and tissues of the body. In particular, formalin performs a dehydration action, thus preventing the decomposition of the body, while glycerin and zinc salts preserve its softness and elasticity.


In addition to this, Salaria used a particular technique to preserve the natural appearance of Rosalia's face. In fact, despite embalming, a person's face tends to undergo a kind of "deformation," which can make it unrecognizable. Salaria, to avoid this effect, used a technique that involved injecting a solution of formalin into the arteries of the neck, in order to preserve the natural appearance of the face.

The result achieved by Alfredo Salaria with Rosalia Lombardo's body was extraordinary, so much so that it is still considered a true masterpiece of the art of embalming. Despite more than a hundred years have passed since her death, Rosalia's body still seems alive, with intact skin and hair soft to the touch.

the best preserved mummy in the world

The Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo

The Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo are a highly evocative and unique place in the world, where the mummified bodies of around eight thousand people are preserved, most of whom belonged to the local aristocracy. The mummification of the bodies began in the late 16th century, when an underground crypt was set up beneath the Capuchin convent, intended to house the remains of deceased friars.

However, over time, the number of bodies preserved in the crypt increased, leading to the current situation. Among the numerous mummies preserved in the Capuchin Catacombs, that of Rosalia Lombardo is undoubtedly the most famous and the most interesting from the perspective of the art of embalming.

Today, the Capuchin Catacombs represent one of the most important tourist attractions in Palermo, visited every year by thousands of people from all over the world. Thanks to the skill of Alfredo Salaria and the decision of Rosalia's parents to have her embalmed, it is now possible to admire one of the most beautiful and extraordinary mummified bodies in the world, a symbol of a family that wanted to pay tribute to the memory of their daughter by preserving her forever.

Cappuccini Palermo

Mummies in Palermo

Palermo Catambe

The Catacombs of the Capuchins in Palermo are a fascinating and historically rich place, offering visitors a unique and evocative experience. Here are all the details you need to plan your visit:


Opening Hours

The Catacombs are open to the public every day, with the following hours:

Morning: from 09:00 to 12:30 (last entry at 12:15)

Afternoon: from 15:00 to 17:30 (last entry at 17:15)


Visit Guidelines

To preserve the state of conservation of the mummies, visitors are prohibited from taking photographs, making recordings, and touching the exhibits. Please respect these rules to help protect this unique cultural heritage.


How to Get There

By Public Transportation: From the Central Station, take bus 109 or 318 to Piazza Indipendenza, then continue with bus 327 or on foot along via Cappuccini (15 minutes). Alternatively, take the metro and get off at the Palazzo Reale-Orleans stop, continue on foot towards Palazzo dei Normanni, and walk along via Cappuccini.

From Outside Palermo: Exit the highway at Corso Catalafimi, follow the entire road and turn left onto Via Pindemonte, to Piazza Cappuccini, where the Church of Santa Maria della Pace and the Catacombs are located. The square also serves as a parking area.


Ticket Price

The entrance ticket costs 3 euros.


A visit to the Catacombs of the Capuchins offers a unique opportunity to explore a significant part of Palermo's history and culture. Plan your visit and immerse yourself in a journey through time, exploring the customs and traditions of a society that lived from the 17th to the 19th century.


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