Sicily and the Friend of the Friends (Mafia)

Sicily is synonymous with the Friends of the Friends, yet once you visit the Island you are highly unlikely to encounter anyone or anything akin to the legendary Mafia or even hear the word spoken by a Sicilian.

The word Mafia is one which boasts many different meanings; one interpretation is that it is derived from the Arabic word mu’afa which means safety or protection – an explanation given credibility by Mario Puzo in his The Godfather.

While the Mafia clearly played a huge role in shaping the Sicily we see today, the story of a bandit chieftain, Salvatore Giuliano and his trusted Gaspare Pisciotta is much more interesting. Salvatore Giuliano The Gentleman Bandit

Salvatore Giuliano – The Sicilian

Salvatore Giuliano was immortalised by Mario Puzo in his work, The Sicilian, and the author treats the bandit chief as some sort of anti-hero, fighting against the establishment and the Mafia and giving to the poor.

It’s hard not to get wrapped up in the romantic notion which Puzo paints of Giuliano, his film star good looks, bravado, daring and Robin Hood-like treatment of the poor. But all these qualities overlook the harsh reality of Giuliano as a ruthless bandit.

A more realistic description of Salvatore Giuliano is given by Norman Lewis, one of the most authoritative writers on Sicily and the author of numerous books about the fabled isle.

Lewis in his impressive work, The Honoured Society – The Sicilian Mafia Observed, describes Salvatore Giuliano’s early life, how he became a bandit and his role in the Sicilian separatist movement.

Salvatore Giuliano – The King of Montelepre

The story of Salvatore Giuliano began in the small town of Montelepre on 16 November 1922 where he was born to Salvatore and Maria Giuliano, their fourth child.

On my visit to Montelepre in September 2010, it was easy to imagine the narrow cobbled streets are the same as the ones Giuliano played in as a child, with fewer cars of course.

Salvatore Giuliano was to rise up from the streets to become ‘The King of Montelepre’. Lewis evocatively describes Montelepre as a ‘small, mean, poverty-stricken town, lodged like the cells of a cancer in the flanks of the mountains of north-western Sicily’.

The town lies less than 15 miles from Palermo but in a sense, it is a lot further than that, behind Montelepre lays the desert aches, akin to a sundried African landscape.

Well to the north, the plains which stretch to Palermo are lush with vegetation, for in Sicily it’s all about water rights and the Mafia control those.

It was in the mountains which dominate Montelepre where Giuliano, just two months shy of his twenty-first birthday, on 2 September 1943, left his old life behind and became Sicily’s most wanted outlaw.

Giuliano, along with his best friend Pisciotta, was involved in the black market smuggling trade during wartime Sicily. And it was on one of these smuggling trips that the pair encountered a police (Carabinieri) checkpoint.

The pair was challenged to give up their illegal goods but for some reason they resisted and Giuliano was shot twice trying to escape but not before he returned fire killing one of the policemen.

The Carabinieri were able to identify Giuliano because in the young man’s haste to escape he left his ID papers behind.

So Salvatore Giuliano and Pisciotta escaped to the mountains in which they spent much of their youth and the legend of the bandit chieftain was born.

Salvatore Giuliano early life and the Sicilian Separatist Movement

The rise of a Sicilian separatist movement may seem like a side story to the tale of Giuliano but he was heavily feted and believed strongly in the idea of Sicily seceding from Italy.

The story of the separatist movement, which bizarrely included the idea of making Sicily the fifty-first state of the USA, and the putdown of the communist menace in Sicily – Giuliano was involved in it all. Sicily Indpendence Flag favoured by Salvatore Giuliano

Giuliano was a prolific letter writer, using his notoriety to plead his case and galvanise the poor in letters published in the Sicilian and Italian newspapers, who were only too happy to reprint them as they relished the bandit’s feats, perhaps even more than the poor.

Giuliano’s role in the Sicilian Separatists’ movement was a simple one – he wanted power and he wanted an official pardon for his growing list of crimes.

Cocetto Gallo, commander-in-chief of the Separatists, met Giuliano in the bandit’s mountain stronghold and formally offered him command of the Separatists’ guerrilla forces in western Sicily.

In return, Giuliano would receive a free pardon and a high government post in the new Sicilian State.

Interestingly, as Lewis notes, Giuliano was handed, by Gallo, a badge showing a map of Italy and America with two US soldiers, one in the act of cutting the chain linking with Sicily with Italy, the other chaining Sicily to America.

This was created purely for Giuliano’s benefit because of his known belief that Sicilian separatism could not prevail without military support from America.

Salvatore Giuliano and the Massacre of Portella Della Ginestra

Giuliano saw his role as a protector of the people but he also demonstrated a ruthless side. Common criminals, the ones who did not have the good fortune to be a member of Giuliano’s band, were punished with death. Popular depiction of the Massacre of Portella della Ginestra

One criminal was executed for taking a farmer’s cattle because stealing from the poor was a cardinal sin to Giuliano. Given his self-appointed role as protector of the poor, Giuliano’s hatred of communism was a little strange. The poor had the most to benefit from communism in terms of land distribution; the chance to work their own land is something that had mass appeal to the poor of Sicily.

However Giuliano did not see it that way, he viewed communism as a godless practice and one that had to be stopped at all costs. This belief led to the events which came to overshadow the rest of Giuliano’s life -the May massacre of Portella della Ginestra.

“We have to go into action against the communists; we’ve got to go and shoot them up on May 1st at Portella della Ginestra,” said Salvatore Giuliano in 1947.

The May Day procession to Portella della Ginestra 1947 was supposed to one of celebration, for the peasants had voted overwhelmingly for land reform and the communists were ready to deliver on that promise.Gaspare Pisciotta awaiting trial

The peasants, however, were to suffer for their perceived betrayal when, on Giuliano’s orders, his band of outlaws massacred the crowd, killing 11 and wounding 55.

Giuliano took the blame for the massacre but insisted he hadn’t wanted to kill anyone, he merely wanted to fire over their heads to signal his displeasure at the peasant’s support of the communists.

The myth of the Sicilian Robin Hood was exploded in the massacre and Salvatore Giuliano lost the support of the people he depended on the most, the poor.

The Sicilian Robin Hood’s Death

Salvatore Giuliano’s life was to end 5 July 1950, just before the trial of his captured men was due to start.

So the life and times of Salvatore Giuliano came to an end, the blow struck by his best friend and trusted lieutenant Pisciotta. Shakespeare couldn’t have told a more tragic story.


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  • DOLORES MALTA LEFEVRE-DARNELL says

    My ancestry both Mother and Father is Sicily. I am always trying to learn more about the iland they came from. Arrival in US – Mother 1907 born in Roccapalomba in 1902 – Father Arrival in US in 1901 – born in Vallingo-Protameno Province Caltanisetto I knew and grew up with both sets of Grandparents.

    I have really never learned why the families left Sicily except to find a better life in America. I am interested in the history of their times.

    “D”olores


    • Mike Cotton says

      Thanks for the comment “D”olores, glad you found my piece helpful.


    • CARMELO CARDAMONE says

      my parents also from sicily caltanesetta which ithink may be same place as your gran d parents if yougo on you tube , you can g et alot of informatin in italian or sicilian o fthis great man, also i would like to say that what you will find out will un bliveable good luck


  • Domenic Giuliano says

    Salvatore Giuliano is my great great uncle so my grandfather told my father , my grand father was from Italy an his fathers brother was Salvatore but it’s impossible for me to find out I want to so badly plus I look exactly like Salvatore and my grandfather and my father


    • Alan guarino says

      Dominic, my grandmother was Maria Guiliano. She was from montelepre. Have u ever visited montelepre? I’m not certain if she was related to Salvatore. She came to America in 1924.


    • Christina says

      My family was from Italy there last name is Giuliano maybe were family my pop pop is lenert


    • Giuliano. says

      Domenic. My father named me. Giuliano after Salvatore….I was born in Roma


    • Blake says

      There is a good documentary on amazon prime and it explains a lot – for example how he shot the policeman and why. Obviously what has been told has been covered up.


  • Domenic Giuliano says

    What was his brother and sisters names


    • CARMELO CARDAMONE says

      HELLO domenic, he had two sisters giuseppina and mariana whos son owns a hotel in montelepre called castello giuliano named after the great man, and also he had an older brother called giuseppe, his mother was called maria lombarda , and his father was called salvatore. hope you find this helpfull.


  • Sir Kevin Parr Bt says

    Wonderful story.I have long been interested in this Robin Hood copy. Yes all photographs of Salvatore are him and those of the dead man are also so much like him it therefore must be him in that grave. To find a real lookalike would have been a lifes work. From his own family ,no unlikely he would have stooped to that. The findings of 90% DNA match tell us no more can d be done but to accept he is in that grave. Then the corpse being too short? What a 5.9 tall Italian? From his photo maybe 5.3 at best. Then that is what the skeleton measures is it not? The only mystery here is,who shot him dead,not any doubt Salvatore was shot and killed by someone in 1950.


  • CARMELO CARDAMONE says

    HELLO SIR KEVIN, the thing that boggles my mind, but i have come to this conclusion piccoiotta was most certainly there ,but also he was helped by the mafia and goverment. by the way iam also of italian decent my parents from sicily in which they lived there at the time. they you st tell these stories about this great brave young man , ifyou cau understant italian there is a lot about him , go to blue notte on you tube ,strage dell statto. and al so al lot of italian are tall er then 5 feet 3 inches.


  • sal rinella says

    Ciao! I will be coming to Palermo in July 2018 if I can make it happen I would love to come to Montelepre. Seems like there is so much more to the story than the one that Mario Puzo wrote – and as writer/filmmaker I am interested to uncover. Find me on Sal Rinella Facebook.


  • Joe Corso says

    I’m doing research on Giuliano hoping to write a book about the charasmatic outlaw. I interviewed a man whose family came from Montelepre. He claims that his father knew Giuliano well and that he wasn’t killed in Sicily but died a few years ago in Chicago. The man told me that someone close to the bandit (Picciotta?) poisoned a cousin of his. Then they shot him multiple times to make it look as though he was killed by the police, and then they smashed his face in so it couldn’t be recognized and then they dumped the body outside his mothers house. When she saw the body she went balistic thinking it was her son.

    I can’t tell you if any of this is true but the man I interviewed certainly believed that it was. To make it more convincing, he told me little things that I hadn’t read before. For example he described how Giuliano killed the policemen which was different than the way it was reported in the papers. For example Giuliano usually transported the grain in a coffin on his horse drawn cart.


  • Paolo Bonventre says

    My father once told that Salvatore Giuliano stayed in my grandfathers house in Valderice Sicily while hiding from the police. My Grandfather was Girolamo Bonventre. My father told several stories about them and the way of life in the 40’s.


  • John Giuliano says

    My name is John Giuliano and Salvatore was my fathers,father’s brother’s son,I am a true full blooded Sicilian with blood that dates to Salvatore Giuliano’s blood in my vains


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