If you ask Maurizio Carta what the mafia looks like, he will take you to the residential areas of the Sicilian capital of Palermo. There, hundreds of desolate, nondescript grey apartment blocks scar the suburbs and a vast part of the historic centre.
It is the result of a building frenzy of the 1960s and 1970s, when Vito Ciancimino, a mobster from the violent Corleonesi clan, ordered the demolition of splendid art nouveau mansions to make space for brutalist tower blocks, covering vast natural and garden areas with tonnes of concrete. It is one of the darkest chapters in the postwar urbanisation of Sicily, and would go down in history as the “sack of Palermo”.
The Sicilian mafia had declared that urban planning in Palermo was to be controlled by Ciancimino, who in 1959 was nominated head of public works by the public administration. “The word ‘sack’ was not randomly chosen to describe that period,” says Carta, professor of urban planning at Palermo University. “Like plundering barbarians, mafiosi devastated the city with cement, disfiguring its parks, landscape and natural beauty.”
Rubble from demolitions and building materials were dumped on the coast, causing the pollution of beaches, many of which remain inaccessible to swimmers today.
The British are indeed different. The Sicilians have an excuse, they were raped by the Mafia. The British architects did the same thing out of conviction, in order to oppress the people instead of profit from them.