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A Brief History & Etymology of Corleone (from ItalyThisWay.com)...


Many assumptions were proposed about the origins of Corleone, especially in earlier centuries. One of the most seductive was that why Corleone was the direct descendant of the ancient city of “Schera”, mentioned even by Homer (IX century BC): “So god-like Nausithous | had taken them away and led them off to settle | in 'Scheria', far from any men who have to work | to earn their daily bread. He'd had them build a wall | around the city, put up homes, raise temples | to the gods, and portion out the land for farming” ( See “The Odyssey”, Book six, 7-12). In the nineteenth century, one of the strong supporters of the identification of Corleone with Schera, besides Cluverio (1580-1622), was Niccolò Maggiore, who wrote: "[...] We know from Thucydides that on the western side of Sicily, (...) the Greeks established only Imera. The others were founded by the Phoenicians or by the Siculians.


We also certainly know that there were three Phoenician cities, or Mozia Solunto and Palermo, and the others were of the Sicanians. So, with a justifiable interpretation, we can state with certainly that Schera was a Sicanian town. Later the Sicanians, the first inhabitants of Sicily after the Cyclops, scared by the terrible eruptions of Mount Etna, began to abandon the island's eastern side (...) and they settled in the western part where they built several fortress on the high. This people always pursued the hillsides, where they could find a fortified shelter against the Siculians (...) In this place certainly the Sicanians founded Schera [...]" (See Niccolò Maggiore, “Memorie sopra Schera città della Sicilia”, in “Giornale di scienze, lettere ed arti per la Sicilia” , Volume XI, Palermo, 1825: 85 ff.).


We observe that, in essence, Niccolò Maggiore hit the mark, because the most reliable contemporary studies, after a series of thorough investigations that have involved many local scholars, have concluded that presumably Schera was located near Corleone, on a hill known as the “Montagna Vecchia” ["Old Mountain"], as appears from preliminary studies by M.I. Gulletta (“Schera per una storia della ricerca”, Gibellina, 1992: 379-394). F. Maurici notes that "the oldest town is traditionally located on the mountain known as “La Vecchia” (See F. Maurici, “Castelli medievali in Sicilia” ["Medieval castles in Sicily"], Sellerio, 1992: 213). Here was located the ancient Schera mentioned by Ptolemy (3, 4, 14), of which staid the ethnic "Scherini" [inhabitants of Schera] in the so-called “Decreti Entellini” ["Decrees of Entella"], where the "Scherini" must to pay a tribute of 30 medimni of wheat (15.6 hl) [See F. Spatafora,“ Corleone, Insediamenti preistorici e centri indigeni”, in “Seconde Giornate internazionali di studi sull'area elima”, Gibellina, 1997: 1279].

With regard to Corleone in the strict sense, it should go back to the Arab, Norman and Swabian domination especially with Frederick II of Swabia (1194-1250). In fact, F. Maurici writes that "the foundation of Corleone on the current site can perhaps go back to the settlement of a group of Lombards to whom the territory was granted in 1237 by Frederick II." (P. 213). Corleone was in fact occupied by the Arabs in the ninth century, which they called, as evidenced by Michele Amari, “Karùb.” So Al Idrisi (1099-1165) described it: [...] Corleone, a castle and fortress solidly built, and well equipped (…) This location, bathed by the homonymous river, is situated eight miles from Raia, five from Giato and - eastward – ten from Prizzi. [...]" (See Al Idrisi, "The Book of Roger”).


As Al Idrisi pointed out, the Arab greatly fortified the town; however, in 1072 the Normans conquered Corleone a few years after being seized in Palermo with Count Roger (1031-1101) and it was enclosed within the boundaries of the diocese of Palermo. Most people of Corleone in Norman times was still composed of Muslims, specially of Berber race, as evidenced by the name of the old hamlet close to Corleone, "al-Rahal Zanati" or the "cliff" or the hamlet of "Zanatah" from a Berber tribe (See A. Varvaro, “Lingua e storia in Sicilia”, Sellerio, 1981: 84). In any case, the Arab relations with the Normans were always very difficult; the Arabs were forced to live in heavy bondage, and this implied rebellions, escapes of countrymen and banditry which brought the security and economy of the territory to ruin.


This situation of severe economic, political and social instability continued even under the Swabians, and indeed Muslims fiercely opposed to Frederick II, who trated them with great stricness, offering control of the town to a group of "Lombardi" ("part de hominibus Lombardiae" [some warriors from Lombardy]) led by Odo of Camerana. According to the contemporary studies, with the term "Lombardi" were over all designed some “Piedmontese peoples banished from Alexandria and its Province, as it is amply demonstrated by the sources, where they are named with the geographical indication of the place of origin" (See, Iris Mirazita, “Corleone: ultimo Medioevo”, Palermo, Officina di studi medievali, 2006: 21).


Although the town was commited to Corrado Peralta, it belonged to the State property and therefore Frederick II recognized Corleone directly dependent on the 'Empire ("qu[a]e est de mero demanio imperialis nostre curie " [belonging to the State property of our Imperial Curia]). The modern town has been organized between the fourteenth and sixteenth century, when it was enriched by the urban civic and specially religious buildings, such as churches, convents and numerous confraternities. Among these there were the Capuchins, who settled in Corleone in the second half of the sixteenth century. In the early seventeenth century, Corleone boasted the Mother Church and "other 36 old churches, convents and two female monasteries of the Benedictine rule" (See E. Novis Chavarria, Recensioni e schede a “Quattro saggi su Corleone nel Seicento”, in “Mediterranea”, 2005: 586).


Since the beginning of the fourteenth century began a long alliance with Palermo in the War of the Sicilian Vespers against Anjou, to which then followed the wars between feudal lords. In the warfare that broke out between the Chiaromonte and the Palizzi, Corleone sided strongly with the Chiaromonte, Lords of Palermo, inextricably linking its history to the capital city ( See I. Mirazita, “La presenza lombarda nel tessuto sociale e urbano di Corleone”, in “El mon urbà a la Corona d'Aragò”, Actas Vol. II, XVII, 2000, pp. 251-254).


In modern times, then we also record the rivalry between the great families of Corleone originated during the uprising of 1516, in which formed two parties headed by the noble families of the Maringo and the Firmaturi. The latter was one of the most families of Corleone, in the struggle for primacy in the town, and that it became even more powerful in the eighteenth century, coming "at the top of the native high society in the decades of the eighteenth century, on completation of a complex process of economic and social growth of the family "(See M.Verga, “La ‘Generosa’ Corleone. Materiali per una storia culturale della città”, in “Mediterranea”, 2006: 265). M. Verga states that "[...] a ruling class emerged (...) conscious and jealous of its history and its role as a governing class; in short, a portrait emerged of a nobility very aware of her role and of the 'dignity' of her city, wanting to call it "Corleone" (Lionheart), instead of the vernacular name of 'Coniglione' (‘large rabbit’) [...]."


M. Verga so approached the problem of etymology of Corleone, saying clearly that the old name "Coniglione" (large rabbit) was changed to "dignify" the town. In fact, about etymology, M. Pasqualino noted that Corleone derived from "Cunigghiuni" [in Sicilian dialect, "Big Rabbit"], noting however that Lo Giudice instead derived the name of the town from a Greek word: "[...]" ‘Cunigghiuni’, ‘Corleone’.


According to Lo Giudice Corleone derives from the Greek 'Kores' or 'Korìon', 'Koros', 'korion', or 'place, or castle of lions', and this view is supported by (…) its insignia, depicting a lion with the heart in its hands [...]" ( See M. Pasqualino, “Vocabolario siciliano etimologico”, Palermo, 1785: 384). G. Nania developed a very good considerations about the place name of Corleone, and he passed in review the various assumptions with a large amount of documents; in his final conclusions, he seems to favor the Arab origin of Corleone (Kar’ lùn'), probably preceded by a Roman noble "Corilius", from which "Corleone" would have arisen (See G. Nania, “Toponomastica e topografia storica delle valli del Belice e dello Iato”["Toponomastic and Historical Topography of the Valley of the Belice and Iato], Barbaro, Palermo, 1995: 47); also F. Maurici, and others accepted this assumption.


It is certain that "from the failure of the Byzantine and Muslim sources we save only a couple of certain names as Corleone and Castronovo. About the first place there is likely a sign of a Roman toponym (...) The etymology of Corleone may be the noble 'Corilius' [See, “Archivio storico siciliano”, 1994: 71 and footnote 309). G.B. Pellegrini discards certain assumptions [such as the derivation of Corleone from "Corylus” (hazel)], while he accepts the assumption that the name derives from ‘Corilius’, [which] is well known in some praedial names like 'Corigliano') taken from the noble ‘Corius / Corrius’ "(See G.B. Pellegrini," Italian toponymy ", 1990, p. 293).


In fact, as we have seen, the change from "Cunigghiuni" to “Corleone” was merely a matter of prestige, and it is interesting to note the passage: “The ‘Corileon’ form (Italian ‘Corleone’) is relatively recent, and it is especially significant that it appears in some Clauses granted to the town by Philip II (1527-1598) in 1556, in the first of which it asked and obtained the name of “Animosa civitas Corleonis” [Valiant town of ‘Corleone’] (See, “Archivio storico Siciliano”, 1878, Vol 3: 481).


The nineteenth century was marked by the participation of prominent citizens in the struggles of the “Risorgimento”, and by landing of Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) in Sicily, with the presence of figures such as Baron Francesco Bentivegna (1820-1856) from Corleone, a fervent Mazzinian patriot, who organized an insurrection against the Bourbons, then shot December 7, 1856. In the early twentieth century, for the conditions of exploitation of labour arose in Sicily the first group of the so-called “Fasci Siciliani”, as the harbingers of Italian socialism. They were led by Bernardino Verro (1866-1915), as the struggle became particularly harsh in the area of Corleone, with the agricultural strike that took place between July and October 1893, when strikes broke out in the agricultural district of Corleone and they spread across western Sicily.


In the twentieth century, the name of Corleone gave much publicity, because of issues related to organized crime, a topic that appears in the trilogy that Francis Ford Coppola [born 1939] ("The Godfather") dedicated to the saga of the Corleone family, taken from a novel by Mario Puzo [1920-1999] ("Il Padrino"). Today, the town concentrates its efforts on the enhancement of the territory in view of a publicity relaunch of tourism. On the other hand the artistic heritage of Corleone is truly remarkable and worthy of careful consideration.

Family History > History of Corleone