The first Godfather film is a Francis Ford Coppola classic, beloved by millions, and although the majority of the story takes place in New York there is an important Sicilian component. There are some critical scenes filmed in Sicily at locations you can still visit today, essentially unspoiled and looking as they did in the early 1970s when the movie was made.
The name of the town in the film is Corleone, which is the name the Godfather’s family takes as its own upon arriving in the United States. There is an actual town in Sicily called Corleone, located roughly 37 miles south of Palermo. Corleone has an actual Mafia history, too, with a long list of mob bosses hailing from the town and more than 150 Mafia-related deaths in the late 1940s alone. By the time Coppola was preparing to make the movie “The Godfather,” however, he and his crew determined that Corleone itself looked too developed to stand in for 1940s-era Sicily. Intead of filming in the actual town of Corleone, then, they used locations in two other Sicilian towns.
Either of the two Corleone stand-ins makes a fine day trip from Messina, Catania, or Taormina (there are even special Godfather-themed tours), and an important scene is filmed at one of Palermo’s top attractions. In other words, even if you’re not a Godfather devotee, a little Godfather sightseeing in Sicily isn’t a bad way to spend your vacation.
And yes, this article contains movie spoilers. Proceed accordingly.
There are affiliate links below, which means I get a little something if you book one of these tours – but it won’t cost you anything extra.
The town of Savoca sits on Sicily’s eastern coast about 19 miles from the port city of Messina and 13 miles from the seaside resort of Taormina. It served as the backdrop for some of the important Sicily scenes.
Many memorable scenes were filmed at the Bar Vitelli, a cafe and restaurant that still looks essentially exactly like it did during filming (and, truth be told, for a long time before that). It’s located in the center of the small town, in an 18th century building, and there is a small gallery of filmmaking memorabilia on the wall inside – including photographs taken during the filming and newspaper articles about the movie and Savoca. The doorway to the bar is still framed by beaded curtains, just as it was in the film.
Also in Savoca is the church where Michael Corleone and his Sicilian bride, Apollonia, are married. The relatively plain Church of Santa Lucia is a short walk from Bar Vitelli, and of course you can walk the same path as the wedding celebrants did after the ceremony, from the church back to the bar. Corleone is nowhere near the coast, so even though Savoca has gorgeous views over the water the filmmakers worked hard to not show any sea views in order to make it appear as if it was the actual town of Corleone.
Savoca is small enough that in order to have a second church where filming could take place, Coppola went to the nearby town of Forza d’Agrò. It’s just over 10 miles from Taormina, 27 miles from Messina, and eight miles from Savoca.
In Forza d’Agrò, the Church of Sant’Agostino is the backdrop for Michael Corleone’s first arrival in Sicily. The same church also featured in “The Godfather II” in a scene where the young Vito Corleone is making his escape to America while another Mafia gang is hunting for him.
If you’re among those who consider “The Godfather III” on par with its two predecessors, then you won’t want to miss a stop in Palermo. Some of the film’s final scenes, when Michael Corleone’s son performs in the opera and his daughter dies on the theater’s steps, were filmed at the beautiful Teatro Massimo in the city’s historic center.