A little treasure trove in the former stables of a noble palace …

17 June, 2010

Anyone with even the slightest interest in haberdashery will be entranced by Carieri – and even those without any interest at all in needle and thread are likely to find it well worth a visit.  Carieri is a little treasure trove located in the former stables of one of Palermo’s grandest palaces,  Palazzo Scordia Mazzarino, a large space with high vaulted ceilings supported by tall columns.  The horses of Palermo’s aristocracy, or at least those at Palazzo Scordia Mazzarino, obviously lived very well indeed. 

As soon as you enter Carieri from the street, you are in a large white space, divided down each side by seven or eight grey columns and filled to the rafters with all manner of merchandise: rack upon rack of ribbons of every colour and pattern; row upon row of buttons of every type and shape – jewelled, pearl, mother of pearl, bone, gold, round, square, diamond, heart or tear shaped, some even in the shape of teapots, flowers or pencil sharpeners;  artificial flowers, fur trim, lace, beads, materials, braids, and padding.  Tucked away between stacks of materials and strands of sequins I even noticed a large pair of silver fairy wings, and on top of a set of shelves, two leather and brass vests that might look well on a Roman soldier.   

Carieri started life as a button factory in the 1930’s and it still makes buttons today.  But perhaps its most prestigious activity these days is the making of jewellery and accessories for theatre costumes – which, I assume, might explain the Roman soldiers’ vests.  Just inside the entrance, displayed in a glass case, you can see various crowns, coronets, bracelets, brooches and necklaces that have been made for productions at Palermo’s opera house, Teatro Massimo.   

When I first came to Palermo, a friend introduced me to a member of one of Sicily’s leading aristocratic families: a worldly, intelligent and interesting woman .   I remember her explaining to me that Palermo is not like Rome or Venice, where the riches of the city are there for everyone to see.  Here, they are hidden behind thick doors and nondescript walls.  It is probably not surprising, then, that I had been here for several years, and made several visits to Carieri, before I realised that behind the nondescript walls lies one of the grandest palaces in Palermo, still in private ownership.  I imagined what it might feel like to discover Buckingham Palace quite by chance. 

Palazzo Scordia Mazzarino, built in the 18th century, does not have any grounds, but it is vast, fronting one of Palermo’s main streets, via Maqueda, and extending to a street at the side, via Trabia, and one at the back, via Patania, where you will find the entrance to Carieri and, if you look up, get a glimpse of the palace’s hanging garden.   All you can see from the street, behind iron railings with urns at intervals, is the top half of a huge ficus magnolioides; you have to imagine the rooms that might open out onto the area in front of it.  Behind the original doors of the palace that open onto via Trabia, there is  a large, elegant porticoed courtyard with vaulted ceilings supported by columns made of the famous local grey Billiemi marble.  Up to the end of the 1980s, the palace was host to many grand receptions  –  apparently in 1988 the Queen Mother was entertained here.

In about 2001, a member of an ancient Italian aristocratic family, Annibale Berlingieri di Valle Perrotta, inherited the palace from his aunt; several years later, an interesting article appeared in the daily newspaper La Repubblica.   It noted that from the late 1980’s many important works of art and pieces of furniture had been stolen from the palazzo following a series of break-ins – during one of these break-ins, Berlingieri’s aunt and her butler had been gagged and kept hostage.  The article was reporting that many of the stolen works had been found – in the Palermo apartment a 48 year old ‘reputable’ professional who had been charged with receiving stolen goods.  “Such robberies are always carried out on commission” the investigating officer was quoted as saying.   The article concluded by noting that the palazzo was being restored and that Berlingieri was hoping that it could be be opened to the city for various cultural initiatives. 

Carieri really is a treasure trove.  And so, it seems, is Palazzo Scordia Mazzarino.  Hopefully the cultural initiatives that Berlingieri envisaged will come to pass.  I would love to see behind the palace’s nondescript walls.

4 Responses to “A little treasure trove in the former stables of a noble palace …”

  1. Antonio Says:

    I would love to see behind those nondescript walls of Palazzo Scordia too, Kate! You are quite right that there are beautiful places hidden behind bland exteriors in Palermo – one sometimes glimpses beautiful apartments through an open window or door.

    And Carieri sounds amazing, even though I may not need needle and thread! I wondered who would need Roman soldiers’ breastplates until you revealed the answer!

  2. CateM Says:

    I definitely want to visit Carieri having read your post! What a find – and the Palazzo sounds intriguing also. Not that I can sew. Perhaps it’s not too late to learn? In fact, I’ve recently been offered sewing lessons and I am tempted to take up the offer. Wouldn’t it be great to have a use for teapot shaped buttons?!

    • kateludlow Says:

      We’ll add it to the list! Perhaps you should take up the offer – it’s definitely never too late to learn to sew. Not entirely sure about the teapot shaped buttons – but I can see they might have more potential than the pencil sharpeners! Thank you!

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