La Passeggiata delle Cattive – The Widow’s Walkway

January 26, 2016 / Local Interest
Palermo, Sicily

Imagine being a married woman and living in Sicily centuries ago. Your husband dies and, as a widow, that practically marks the end of your social life. The future is of total seclusion in the home. Just a window to look out of and only household chores to occupy your time, with the hope that friends and relatives will come and see you to break the monotony. But, if you were lucky enough to live in Palermo, things would have been a little different.

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Today, if you are in the city, the popular area for the evening passeggiata is along the sea front called Foro Italico, where in summer, all the ice cream parlours and the cool sea breezes are. The perfect area to enjoy the evening walkabout. What many people do not know is that here there is another elevated parallel walkway built on top of the city wall which is not visible from the street below. It is part of the old 16th century Spanish military casemates.

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However, this area was reserved from the 17th century onwards for just one category of people. Widows.

It runs from the monumental Porta Felice, the main sea gateway entrance into the city, to just past the bandstand of Foro Italico. Very near to Piazza Marina.

Foro Italico, incidentally, was also from where Mussolini spoke to Sicilians during his propaganda tour of the island in 1937 and Pope Ratzinger held mass here during his visit to Sicily in 2010.

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The word cattive, given to this walkway, (in Italian it means ‘bad’) is a distorted version of the latin word captivae, meaning prisoner, as the widows were considered prisoners of their grief. The gated walkway is precisely 300 paces long.

Here, towards dusk, dressed in their widow’s weeds and escorted, they could stroll together backwards and forwards along the path at a comfortable distance from curious onlookers and indiscreet glances which, in those days, were certainly not encouraged. That would have been their only moment of freedom outside the house to enjoy some fresh air.

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Although it was open to all classes, the upper social class ladies mostly used it, since the pathway runs in front of some renowned aristocratic palazzi, including Palazzo Lanza Tomasi which belonged to Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa, author of the famous Sicilian classic The Leopard.

Today, the heirs and owners, the Duke and Duchess Lanza Tomasi, will be happy and proud to show you round. You can even stay in their beautifully restored home.  Palazzo Lanza Tomasi di Lampedusa. Or for avid foodies, the Duchess can give you an excellent cooking course.

Nowadays, you won’t see any widows along here. Anyone can stroll along this walkway and admire the noble palazzi, but as it is gated it might be an idea to note its opening times: 10.00 – 19.00 (more or less, we are in Sicily! – depending on the season).

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by Marian Watson-Virga

Marian has lived in Sicily for longer than she can remember. British by birth, Sicilian by marriage she loves all things Sicilian, even pani ca’ meusa!   For the past few years she has been collaborating with Carmelina Ricciardello of www.sicilianexperience.com, developing responsible tourism and discovering Sicily on walking and car tours. Marian’s blog page is here.

17 Responses to “La Passeggiata delle Cattive – The Widow’s Walkway”

    • Harold “pani ca meusa” is a Palermo delicacy. Basically it’s fried slices of spleen and lung which doesn’t sound too appetising I know but if you don’t know what you are eating I can assure you it’s delicious!

      Reply
  1. Linda Boccia

    We are fortunate to live in more open times where widows and even divorcees can and do meet other people in all kinds of social situations.

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    • Great Paula! I’d be happy to help you in any way for a future trip to Sicily

      Reply
  2. Luisa LoCascio Matarazzo

    I have cooked with Nicoletta (the duchess) in Palermo and shopped with her in the Vicceris ( I think that’s how you spell it)She is charming and a wonderful cook…

    Reply
  3. Maryanne Maggio Hanisch

    Very interesting. The Italian widows brought the tradition of wearing black for the rest of their days here to the states. I remember that from years ago.

    Reply
  4. Pat Carney Ceccarelli
    Pat Carney Ceccarelli

    Very interesting, many thanks! What are those amazing trees?

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    • They are centuries old Magnolia trees Pat, whose roots grow down from the branches too

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  5. Fascinating. Thanks for all the info. To put on the list of my next trip to Palermo!

    Reply
  6. Anne Robichaud

    Enjoyed the article and hope we can connect when next in Palermo visiting my husband Pino’s family…and stunning photo of the gigantic ficus trees (wondrous to see in the Orto Botanico!)

    Reply
    • It would be a pleasure to meet you Anne next time you down this way visiting Pino’s family. Contact me any time.

      Reply
  7. Jackie Kennedy wore a similar hat and veil ensemble to President Kennedy’s 1963 funeral.

    Reply

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