Qanats of Palermo

Here your semi-official host and travel guide Don Tano is back to show and tell you all about the Qanats. I believe this is one of Palermo’s most interesting attractions.

qanats of Palermo
Image by PalermoCultour

Ciao! Old Don Tano, your servant, and tour guide is back.

Today, Qanats will be my main subject. A Qanat is an exceptional underground hydraulic engineering work. This name, as with many in Sicily, comes from the early occupations by the Arabs and in English, means “channel.

Today I’m gonna tell you about this little-known must-see when you get to Sicily. That is our exceptional underground hydraulic engineering work commonly called a “qanat”.

While our Qanats aren’t the world’s only underground sources of water, ours are pretty impressive and as you probably know by now, our Sicilian regional capital is 👉 full of majestic historic wonders and it’s not by chance that Palermo has the official — if not always flattering — title of being the most conquered city in the world.

With each new occupation, each sovereignty left its indelible mark on Palermo giving rise to a city where different art and architecture continue to exist side by side. Now many of these marvels are quite visible to all, and most of them are considered precious landmarks, but in addition to that, we have many other marvels that live in hiding, within the very innards of Palermo itself!

The wonder I’m gonna talk to you about today is just one of those invisible wonders: The ancient Qanat. The Qanat is a sloping underground channel that transports water from an aquifer through a series of clever slopes up to the surface for us to enjoy as irrigation and drinking water.

These Qanats were constructed during different times over the long period dating from the Arab domination to the end of the Norman domination. (And the latter learned a great deal from their predecessors).

Visit to the Qanat is a unique experience!

This vast network of narrow underground tunnels is located mainly beneath the Calatafimi Street area. In the past, this area featured an amazing complex of real gardens, bubbling fountains and exotic plants. At the time they required large amounts of water to refresh the plants during our hot Sicilian summers.

Sadly, today all these beautiful outdoor arrangements have been lost only to be replaced by ill-maintained rough buildings.

qanats in calatafimi area
Image by Balarm

In the heyday of the Arabic rule, however, and even during the Norman rule, these galleries enriched our city with sparkling fountains, lush gardens and public baths surrounded by awe-inspiring palaces.

A visit to the Qanat is a unique experience that — unless you’re a speleologist or a professional miner — will be impossible to forget. Warning! This visit is not recommended for claustrophobics, but for those who love evocative places and something different, it can be a real dream.

Your visit begins with you donning rubber boots and a waterproof jacket which organizers provide. That gives you a foretaste of the environment you may expect to find beneath your feet. After that, you don a body harness and a hard hat with a light bulb attached and down you go via an iron ladder to a depth of fifty feet.

During this journey into the depths, you begin to realize how the environment changes as you descend until you arrive on a scene that you could never have imagined from a mere visit to the surface.

Here, you find yourself standing amidst bare wet rocks as moisture pours out of the walls and flows between your boots while the feeble light from your helmet illuminates a short surrealistic circle around you.

Once you take a few minutes to become a bit accustomed to your surroundings and appreciate this unusual place, you’ll be more than grateful for the helmet that, aside from giving you light, helps you to avoid getting some painful bangs on the head from the low rocky ceilings.

After this introduction, you simply follow the guide and enjoy the visit without being afraid of the water. Sorry, but you will get wet inside the Qanat. Aside from getting over your knees and filling your boots, water not only seems to rain down but up as well. But not to worry. So far the water down beneath Palermo has never killed anyone.

‼️One bit of advice: If you listen to Old Tano, you’ll stuff spare pants and socks into a waterproof plastic bag, and dive right into this wet but exciting adventure, an adventure with memories you’ll never forget or regret.

Qanat is so popular and space so limited that you can visit by reservation only. To book a visit, call 📞+39 380 6523494 or you can email 📧 Each visit least about an hour and a half. Don’t forget the spare dry clothing!

If Old Don Tano can answer any questions or address any problems, drop a comment below. I’m no teenager, but I’m gonna be around for a long long time (I hope!).

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!

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