Palermo has very beautiful museums full of wonderful art which are indicated in every tourist guide: Palazzo Abatellis, The Gallery of Modern Art, Palazzo Riso, the Salinas Museum, the Diocesan Museum … But, it’s not these we want to talk about. Palermo also has some very interesting unconventional museums.
THE DODERLEIN ZOOLOGICAL MUSEUM
The Doderlein Museum is part of the University of Palermo and has a rich collection of invertebrates and vertebrates. Tiered display cases present the treasures of this museum, such as the Mediterranean fish collection (preserved using a still-secret method ). There is also the malacology (molluscs and shells) display and one of animal body parts.
I was particularly struck there by a stuffed specimen of a dodo. This strange bird, common in Mauritius, unfortunately became extinct in the 17th century. It’s a small museum but a real treasure.
For those interested in the history of Piaggio scooters, a symbol of Italian design throughout the world, Vittinavespa is an absolute must.
Collector Philip Sagona has brought together several Vespas, antique toys and vintage items (jukeboxes, slot machines, etc.) linked to these scooters. In addition to historical models, such as the “Faro Basso”, there are also rarities like a Vespa commissioned in 1956 by the French Ministry of Defence. It comes complete with a small firing device, six missiles and a basket with four extras. This model was parachuted into Vietnam during the war. Of note also is the sidecar Vespa and a racing model.
We move on to Aspra, near Bagheria, and the Anchovy Museum. A visit to this museum covers not only how anchovies are conserved but also the ancestral relationship between man and the sea. One story the founder Michelangelo Balistreri told me was this: “Many, many years ago, so many that you can’t imagine, a beautiful family of stars shone in the sky. The were very, very tiny but also very, very bright, maybe the brightest stars in the whole sky. They were called the Engraulines and they were also very, very vain. According to legend, the Engraulines were punished by God for their stubborn vanity by being thrown from the sky into the sea. Since that time, and forever after, they have been known simply as anchovies.”
THE CARRIAGE MUSEUM
The Carriage Museum is also in the province of Cinisi.
Here, different types of carriages are grouped together (e.g. breaks, briskas, buggies, landau bateaus, ottomolles and victorias). Also on display are harnesses, saddlery, bits, whips and historical documents.
All these pieces have been restored and are ideally maintained.
The wood the carriages were made of are echoed in the history and names of some Sicilian noble families, like Trabia, Myrtle, Niscemi and Butera, as well some English ones who made their fortune in commerce, like Whitaker, Horton and Hopps.
The Pasqualino Musem, the most recent unconventional one in Palermo, is near Piazza Marina.
Sicily has a long tradition of puppets telling the stories of the Crusades and of the Paladins of France. Puppets are also fairly popular all around the world. This museum brings together puppets, theatre texts and other items from Belgium, France, Spain, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and other countries. There are also some puppet masks from Africa.