The Count of Cagliostro

Wearing many hats, Giuseppe Balsamo (Count of Cagliostro) was a wrangler, swindler, heretic, alchemist, compulsive gambler and healer.

cagliostro count

He would be responsible for spreading the dogma of the Egyptian sect throughout many European cities. Through this process, he would deceive many people into following along with his rantings.

Though he would be left unscathed through this city-to-city deception, he would be caught and imprisoned during the Inquisition in Palermo.

There is not a lot of documentation about the life (or even the death) of the Count of Cagliostro.

While he was born in 1743 (and dying in prison seemingly around 1795), he was likely best described by Giacomo Casanova who would define him as a “slacker genius who preferred the life of a vagabond rather than a laborious life”.

As a chemist, Giuseppe also had a following from the medical and religious positions of the time. Toying with ingredients, the Count would create drugs and poisons he primarily used to hypnotize and entrance his later victims.

Cagliostro would be a world traveler in his time, though it is never made clear if this is to evade police or just to enrich his understanding of the world. He did live in foreign countries throughout his life, notably spending his childhood in Mecca.

Throughout his world travels he claimed to know the inner secrets of the highest Egyptian priests.

Though the Inquisition would see him as nothing more than a swindling crook, the Count of Cagliostro remains a fascinating and colorful character in Sicily’s history. He thoroughly enjoyed the approval of the crowd, even amidst the sufferings that would come from his most infamous of allegations.

Calgiostro himself would say: “I am not of any age or place. Outside time and space, my soul lives its eternal existence. I was born neither from flesh, nor by the will of man. I was born from the spirit. My name is just what I chose to appear in your midst.”

He would die in San Leo fortress, being walled up alive. Even in this act, the Count is a mystery. His body has never been recovered.

You can however, visit his house in the historical market of Ballarò here in Palermo.


Don Tano Bongiorno

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About Don Tano

I’m full-blooded Sicilian born from the noise of the Vucciria market and the gentle sound of the waves of Mondello. I grew up eating “pane e panelle” and “pasta con le sarde”. But most of all, I grew up with an awareness: Palermo is a beautiful city to live intensely and to love without question!