Via Paolo Borsellino, 3
Guided tours only
From Monday to Saturday tours leave at 3:00 PM
Sunday there are tours at 3 and 5:00 PM
The bomb shelter can be visited by appointment on Saturdays and Sundays at 5:15 PM
On the second and fourth Sundays of the month there is a mass.
Tickets € 6,00
It can be a bit hard to find the entrance to the Museo delle Carceri le Nuove and Cassandra guesses that once upon a time it was even harder to find your way back out. There is a very long and robust brick wall with a very intimidating metal door with CCTV cameras all around it that looks like a good candidate, but it is actually just where the wire tapping department is. False alarm.
Even as a paying visitor, some time spent inside the Museo delle Carceri Le Nuove will make you want to stay on the straight and narrow for the rest of your days. The prison was built from 1857 to 1869 when reformers thought that total isolation was a modern innovation and the best route to redemption. All cells were single rooms, alias solitary confinement, in this jail shaped like a double cross. Even the outdoor areas were divided into sections like an orange with an armed guard at the middle, a type of setup called a panopticon. Prisoners were kept separate at all times and the suicide rate was high. The preferred method for doing oneself in seems to have been “battere la testa contro il muro,” hitting your head against the wall.
You can only see the Carceri if you take a guided tour with a volunteer from a coop called “Nessun Uomo e’ un Isola,” no man is an island. I was tempted to ask my guide, Giuseppe, if he had some special qualification for the job, like maybe he was an ex-con, but soon the atmosphere got to me and I was in no mood for conversation. Because perhaps the tables would turn and it would become an interrogation.
Giuseppe brought us past a wall of fame of black and white pictures of people who had been held at Le Carceri Nuove as political prisoners and that was the slant that the tour took: how unfair it was for people to have been held at here. Although something tells me that not everyone who spent time behind these bars was actually a hero.
Soon the doors where clanking shut behind us and the cold and damp started setting in. Giuseppe took us by the new wing where the Red Brigade terrorists were held in the 1970s and into the old jail. Each cell is 2.26 mt wide by 4 mt long and they have luxurious, 3 mt high ceilings. Too bad that the windows were small and placed at about 2 mt where you couldn’t actually see out of them. Another great innovation for the time was that each cell had a hole to use for nature calls, a nice touch since the people held in here weren’t scheduled to get out into nature for quite a while.
Cassandra risked it big and snuck some shots for you
Our garrulous guide began to seem our warden as he led us past row after row of dismal doors and layer after layer of dingy walls. We even went down into the dirt and damp of death row.
Criminals or war heros, after a while it really didn’t matter any more. By the time our two hour tour was over I was more than happy to be sprung loose and was chirping like a bird as I left those nasty, cold and echoing halls behind me.