One of the cultural traditions of Sicily is a type of puppet show in which marionettes are used to enact legendary tales of knights, pirates, and saints. This type of puppet show - or “Opera dei Pupi” - was even added to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2008.
The tradition of Opera dei Pupi in Sicily became popular in the early 19th century, though some of the stories enacted by the marionettes date back to the 12th century. When these marionette shows were at their peak, there were traveling stages in Sicily that were built into donkey carts. There were often multiple backdrops of elaborately painted sets, and the marionettes themselves were all hand carved out of wood.
Today, there are still a few places you can see the Opera dei Pupi in Sicily, where they carry on the old marionette theater tradition, but the era of these theaters being family-run operations with the skills being passed from generation to generation are long gone.
In Palermo, you can visit the Museo Internazionale delle Marionette - the International Marionette Museum - to see some of the historic marionettes on display. The museum also has puppets from other parts of the world, and - at the end of the tour - you’ll have a chance to see a brief puppet show. It’s all in Italian and Sicilian dialect, but it’s a delight to see even if you don’t understand a word. Ask at the ticket window about the schedule for the puppet shows, so you can plan your visit to the museum around seeing one.