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Heroes Of Sicily And The Mafia Villains They Fought

Sicily and the Mafia has had a long violent history together for years, but there are great Italian heroes who fought the criminals and these are my favorites.


Sicily And The Mafia - Fighting Organized Crime

Fighting Against Organized Crime


Italy Is Famous For The Mafia

It is important that brave Italians who fought the good fight are remembered with their memories being kept alive through a range of media sources. I wanted to highlight a couple of my favorite figures from modern Italian history that fought against the Mafia, in some cases at the cost of their lives, and act as an inspiration to others looking to challenge injustices that they see in their lives.


Famous Italian Photographer Letizia Battaglia

Where Did Letizia Battaglia Live?

Letizia Battaglia was an Italian photographer, reporter and politician from Palermo, Sicily who gained a reputation as a fierce advocate for the residents of Palermo through her reporting, photography and political work. She was born in Palermo in 1935 and died just recently in April 2022. 



What Did Letizia Battaglia Do?

She began her photography career later in life (in 1969 when she was 34) working with the Palermo newspaper L’Ora. She was the only woman among male colleagues at a time when the expectation that women stayed home to raise their family was common. In 1970 she moved to Milan and continued her photography in collaboration with various newspapers. In 1974 she returned to Palermo and created the “Photographic Information” agency and began by documenting what was known as “The Years of Lead” in Italy, which was a period of around 20 years that saw a flood of social and political corruption. It included kidnappings and killings of politicians, policemen and innocent bystanders. 


She gained notice by taking photos of mafia crime scenes and informing the public with the goal of changing opinion and shaking up the ideas of what is acceptable in Palermo. In addition to crime scenes, she was able to get shots at the Zagarella Hotel showing mafia figures together with Politician (and eventual Prime Minister) Giulio Andreotti. Another of her accomplishments was on January 6, 1980 when she was the first photojournalist to reach the site where Piersanti Mattarella is murdered. Mr. Mattarella was the brother of the current President of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, who can be seen in the image trying to remove his dying brother from the vehicle in which he was shot.

What Camera Did Letizia Battaglia Use?

Ms. Battaglia became an internationally recognized photographer, not only for being the photographer of the mafia, but also because with her photographs, often in black and white shot with her trusty Leica, she aimed to tell the story of her Palermo, telling the stories of her misery and poverty, of nobility and wealth, she told of festivals, she told of children playing happily in the streets. It is necessary to give proper respect to the complete works of this artist, and not only take the best known projects. 


Letizia Battaglia would confront the criminals in their own streets by proudly displaying her works in the town centers of Corleone, Palermo and others. As a result of her work, Ms. Battaglia spent much of her life being afraid of being killed by the Mafia. She chose not to have bodyguards.

Magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino


While Letizia Battaglia was fighting against the corrosive effects of the Mafia and its corruption on the Italian society, Magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were fighting the same enemy in the legal system.

Who Were Falcone and Borsellino In Short?

The careers of Magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino began in Palermo, Sicily’s capital, where the two were born. They spent their youth in the same neighborhood and although many of the friends from their childhood grew up to become mafiosi, they fought these same criminals as prosecuting magistrates.


What Did Falcone and Borsellino Fight For?

Paolo Borsellino and Giovanni Falcone discovered the secrets of la Cosa Nostra in the 1980s at a time when very little was known about the mafia. Falcone, thanks to his ability to interpret the signs, gestures, messages and silences of the men of the Cosa Nostra, was able to decipher their “language”, their way of acting. He was able to accomplish this thanks to his relationships with the informants, the men who chose to abandon the mafia to collaborate with justice.

Who Was Falcone and Borsellino’s Mole?

Thanks to one informant in particular, Tommaso Buscetta, they began to learn the secret language of the mafia. For the magistrates who were working to convict these criminals, it was the Rosetta Stone that allowed them to go after the criminal organizations in very public proceedings.


The most famous trial, and one that was recreated multiple times on film, was the Maxi Trial. It was a criminal trial against the Sicilian Mafia that took place in Palermo, Sicily. The trial lasted about six years and was held in a bunker-style courthouse constructed specifically for this trial which was held inside the Ucciardone prison.

The prosecutors indicted 475 criminals for crimes relating to Mafia activities and 338 were convicted for a total of 2,665 years. Also there were life sentences handed to 19 leaders of the crime syndicates. It is the most significant trial ever against the Sicilian Mafia, and the largest trial in world history.

How Did Falcone And Borsellino Die?

Paolo and Giovanni were able to win their battle by having arrested hundreds of these criminals, but it was a victory dearly paid for. Their lives ended once again together, between spring and summer in 1992. Mr. Falcone was assassinated on May 23, 1992, five days after his 53rd birthday, when the Mafia activated the remote control which caused the explosion of 1000 kg of TNT placed inside drums in a drainage tunnel under the motorway on which he was traveling. 

On 19 July 1992, after having lunch with his wife, Paolo Borsellino went with his escort to visit his mother and sister. At 16:58 a Fiat 126 stuffed with TNT, which was parked under the mother’s house, exploded as the judge passed, killing the five escort officers in addition to the 52-year-old Borsellino.

What Was The Impact Of Falcone And Borsellino?


These killings became a turning point for the way Italian society, politics and judiciary understood and dealt with organized crime. After their murders, it could no longer be denied that there was a problem with the Mafia. The following trials brought incredible pressure on the criminal organizations and the politicians that supported them.

Learn More About Famous Italians In History And Italian Culture

If you enjoyed reading about Sicily and the Mafia and these Italian heroes, you may also enjoy these posts that describe other famous Italians, but also the Italian government, politics and the culture:

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