Some 350 years ago, it was discovered that the catacombs contained a mysterious preservative that helped mummify the d-ead. As a result, Sicilians from nobles to maids -- at least 8,000 in all -- demanded to be buried here. The oldest corpses date from the late 16th century. The last corpse to be buried here was that of 2-year-old Rosalia Lombaro, who d-ied in 1920. She still appears so lifelike that locals have dubbed her "Sleeping Beauty." Giuseppe Tommasi, prince of Lampedusa and author of one of the best-known works of Sicilian literature, The Leopard, was buried here in 1957. His body was not embalmed, but buried in the cemetery next to the catacombs instead.
Visitors can wander through the catacombs' dank corridors among the mummified bodies. Some faces are contorted as if posing for Edvard Munch's The Scream. Although many corpses are still remarkably preserved, time and gravity have been cruel to others. Some are downright creepy, with body parts such as jaws or hands missing.