There was a public whorehouse in Enna until 1958. Afterwards, all brothels were suppressed throughout Italy by an act of the national parliament. Enna’s public whorehouse was located in the upper town, which looks onto the nearby town of Calascibetta, but it was not far from downtown. Of course, Enna is a small city lying on a plateau, and the distances between one side and another are not long.
To go to the public brothel from Saint Francis Square, which is the heart of the city, you had to go down the main street called Via Roma. When Mussolini came to power, he decreed that the main street in every Italian city, town, and village should be named Roma, which he considered not just the capital of Italy, but also the symbol of the Italian power, history, and traditions.
Walking a short distance down Via Roma, there is another small square called Piazza Balata, named by the Arabs who had conquered Sicily around the tenth century AD, and who remained here for two centuries until they were defeated by the Normans.
Four streets branch off from Piazza Balata. One of them that goes uphill is called Via Sant’Agata. The main business centers of Enna are on this street. The small Church of Santa Croce was located on Via Sant’Agata as well. The street that branches off downhill is called Via Pergusa. It leads towards mythological Lake Pergusa. Of the other two streets, one is the continuation of Via Roma, while the other leads to the area where the public whorehouse once was. That street is called Via Vittorio Emanuele II, who was the king when the unification of Italy took place.
Walking uphill on Via Vittorio Emanuele II, on the right there is a square that is raised about one meter above the street, which at harvest time once swarmed with folk from all
over Sicily. Those people were farm workers who hoped to get hired to reap the wheat, which is abundant in the fields around Enna.
Further on is the impressive Church of San Cataldo with its wooden-trussed roof. According to a friend of mine who is an archeologist, this church overlapped the old Temple of Persephone, named for Demeter’s daughter. He could be right, because through a glass floor inside the church it is possible to see old remains that likely denote a preexisting place of worship.
Walking along the external wall of the church, the street gets narrower for a few meters and then leads to the area called Popolo (the common people). In this area, the street takes the form of a backbone from where, like ribs, a series of alleyways branch off. As we keep walking, we find the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo (Saint Mary of the People) on the left, the origin of which was the chapel of a convent of cloistered nuns.
Long ago, a great part of the city of Enna consisted of churches, convents, and monasteries. After the unification of Italy, the convent attached to the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo shared the lot of much of the ecclesiastic real estate. It was expropriated by the Italian liberal government. The nuns were asked to leave, and the Italian army turned the convent into a military garrison.
The ex-convent, the square in front of it, and the bordering houses took the appellation of Colombaia (dovecote), due to the fact that, before the telegraph was invented, the military detachment used to communicate with other outposts by carrier pigeons that were kept in the state-owned dovecote. The carrier pigeons had the task of delivering messages from one place to another, and it seems that they never got lost. In fact, they were able to cover a distance of a thousand kilometers at the speed of 100 kilometers per hour, bearing the message to be delivered stuck on their claw.
If you keep walking uphill on Via Vittorio Emanuele II, it leads to another street called Via San Francesco d’Assisi. Almost at the end of Via Vittorio Emanuele II, on the right, there is Via Aspromonte, a narrow alley that just leads to the building that once was the public whorehouse.
The brothel was run by a brothel keeper, but the building belonged to a wealthy Enna family and had been leased to an ex-prostitute who had made enough money from her “work.”
Brothel keepers were often called queens, and were usually unmarried. If it happened that one of them was married, her husband was called the “king.”
One room of the whorehouse was left for a police officer, who had the task of keeping order and checking the personal documents, above all the ones regarding the customer’s age. In fact, entrance was forbidden to young men under eighteen years of age. Nevertheless, the brothel keeper controlled everything in advance and kept order. She was always present at the entrance, and was very strict with both the prostitutes and the customers.
The brothel’s main door was kept ajar till late into the night. A wide red curtain separated the entrance from the rest of the house. Over the curtain there was a hall. The queen’s room was on the right, and on the left two steps led to a corridor. At the bottom was the room for the policeman; on the left there were two wide bedrooms, and on the right two waiting rooms.
The bedrooms were equipped with a washbasin, a bidet, an irrigator, and a small closet where tubes containing calomel ointment, thymol, and silver mercury for the treatment that had to be done after every intercourse were kept, and obviously there was a bed. It was a big double bed covered with a bedspread and a simple white cotton sheet.
The whorehouse was not furnished with a heating system, so every room had a wood stove with a saucepan full of water on it, which served the purpose of keeping moisture in the air. The hot water was also used to fill hot-water bottles that warmed up the girls and also the chilly customers, who put them on their genitals. Some girls obliged their customers by taking a hip bath, using the bidet, before having sex.
In the waiting rooms, where the customers sat on wooden sofas, there were placards that listed the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, the preventive treatments to apply, the location of the prevention and treatment dispensaries, and where to go for clinical tests.
In one of the lounges that the girls used to talk with the customers, there was a desk where the queen kept the accounts. One drawer held the tokens and in the other she
stashed the money. After the customer had paid the fee, the girl got a token, which was the equivalent of a simple sexual intercourse, and at the end of the day the tokens that each girl collected were counted and exchanged into ready money by the brothel keeper.
Behind the desk, stuck on the wall, there was the price list pinned on a wooden board:
• Simple service £ 1
• Double £ 1.8
• Fifteen minutes £ 2.20
• Half an hour £ 3.50
• One hour £ 5
• Towel and soap £ 0.50
From the hall, a staircase led upstairs where there were three more rooms for the girls, the medical room, and another waiting room reserved only for high-class people or someone that wanted to hide his identity, like a priest, a monk, or a married person. The entrance to this waiting room was regulated by the queen, who ordered the doors to all rooms shut, except the one reserved for the police, in order to let in the person that had asked to remain anonymous. Another staircase led to the basement, which was comprised of the kitchen, the laundry, and the dining room.
The meeting between the girls and their customers took place in the waiting rooms. It was not as easy as you might imagine to find a mutual attraction, because everyone has different tastes. Some people liked a thin girl, and others a plump one, or one with a great pair of tits. Some preferred blondes and others the dark-haired ones. Once the choice had been made, the couple headed for the bedroom, and within about ten minutes the meeting was over. It was possible to stay in the bedroom for a longer time, but in that case the customer obviously had to pay more.
Before having intercourse, the girls examined their customers very carefully, and sometimes they were able to diagnose some of the sexually transmitted diseases.
Some customers used to take two girls, and sometimes a couple of men went into a bedroom with only one girl. Sexual activities varied widely. Some men liked to have anal
intercourse with the girl, some enjoyed the girl sucking or moving her tongue around his penis, while others preferred to move their tongue across the female sexual organs.
A friend of mine, who had been a great haunter of the brothel, told me that before having sex he used to lick the whore all over her body, from the tip of her toes to her crown. He told me that the time he spent there had been the most beautiful in his life. The charming atmosphere of the girls sitting in the lounge was unforgettable. He enjoyed talking and joking with them for long periods of time before going to the room to have sex. In 1958, when public whorehouses were suppressed by law, he stuck a death notice on the walls of the buildings in Enna: “The public whorehouse of Enna is dead and an era is ended. All the men who used to go to that house mourn the loss of their beloved meeting place.”
The prostitutes in the whorehouse shifted every fifteen days. The fortnight shift happened by bilateral agreement between the brothel keeper and the prostitutes. The girls were brought there by a recruiter. Once in the brothel they had to give half of their earnings to the queen. They also had to pay their board and lodging. Once in the brothel, the girls took nicknames, which usually reflected the place of their origin or the peculiar “skills” they had. For instance, if one was good at giving a man oral pleasure, she was called the blow jobber.
The girls used to be able to sleep or rest however they pleased in the mornings; only one of them was on duty and available in case a customer had the pressing need to have sex. In the evenings, all the girls sat scantily dressed in the lounge where the meetings with their customers took place.
Some men quite often went to the whorehouse just to chat with the girls. They didn’t want to have sex, but just to loaf about. In this case, the queen intervened and asked the person to leave. However, as Enna is a small town where almost everyone knows one another, the queen was able to spot the dawdlers in advance and wouldn’t allow them to enter.
The chat with the girls went on for a while in the lounge. Some people used to grope the girls before making their choice. Once the customer had opted for one of the girls, she couldn’t refuse, even if he was ugly, dirty, or had a penis out of proportion. She had to follow him to the room and satisfy him according to his will.
A friend of mine, who had lived in Enna during the Second World War, told me that when the American troops conquered the town, most of the soldiers were looking for brothels or prostitutes that ran their business at home.
One of the freelance whores lived in Colombaia Quarter not far from my friend’s home. He told me that whenever he passed by her house, he heard her crying out with pain. Obviously there were some problems with the penis size of those soldiers, or the way they wanted to have sex.
Whorehouses in Italy had different standards. There was a classification similar to that of hotels, ranging from five-star to one star. The whorehouse in Enna was listed at three-star. The difference of the standards of brothels was given not only by the more luxurious environment, but above all by the quality of the female “material.” Girls in a four- or five- star brothel had to meet certain criteria: beauty, age, and above all buxomness.
All girls in any brothel had to have their health certificate to work. Apparently, the society of that time was openly male chauvinist, because health certificates were required only for girls, not for men that entered the whorehouse. The fact is, that after one year of work, almost all prostitutes fell ill with a venereal disease, especially syphilis. When the queen had the tiniest suspicion that a girl had contracted a venereal disease, she asked her to leave the house right away.
In Enna’s whorehouse, the new girls all had to undergo health examinations. The outpatient clinic was on the other side of the city, so the new prostitutes were paraded by the queen through Via Vittorio Emanuele II, Saint Francis Square, and Via Roma to go to the doctor. It was a good opportunity for them to be seen by the townspeople and to publicize themselves.
The medical examination consisted of an overall body check-up, but above all genitals and mucosae needed to be examined. Then the doctor had to check if gonococcus, the
etiological agent of gonorrhea, was present. Even though the examination was very thorough, it didn’t guarantee with absolute certainty that the prostitute didn’t have a contagious venereal disease. In fact, all infectious diseases have an incubation period of a few days. During that time it is impossible to make an accurate diagnosis, and a sick prostitute could still infect her customers.
My friend who lived during the brothel era told me that an outstanding professional man, who was married to a noblewoman, once contracted syphilis when he had sex with a prostitute in a five-star brothel in Catania. Then he infected his wife, who was pregnant. The twins that she delivered were both born syphilitic. It was a real tragedy at that time. Syphilis could not be cured completely and it affected many organs like the liver, the kidneys, and the central nervous system.
Besides the activity that was run in public whorehouses, there was a kind of underground prostitution. Those prostitutes used to take a seat in front of their homes—
usually located on the ground floor and looking onto the street—and lured passersby. Sometimes the oldest prostitutes took in some young girls.
Those whores were not as beautiful as the ones in public brothels. They were often getting on in years. Their average age was around forty or fifty, but they were the only way for teenagers to have sex. At that time, morals were very strict and it was even considered improper for unmarried couples to merely stroll on the street. Whenever two engaged people wanted to go together to some place, to the cinema for instance, or just wanted to take a walk, they needed to be escorted by another woman of the family, who remained stuck to them all the way.
For teenagers, there was no other opportunity to have sex except with a whore. Most of the teenagers in Enna had their entry into the sex world through prostitutes that ran their business at home. While whores in brothels didn’t need a pimp, for street prostitutes a kind of protection was necessary. Usually the pimp was her lover who had started her off on the career as a prostitute.
The greatest danger whenever a boy had sex with a whore was contracting a contagious disease. Some sexually transmitted diseases were not very serious, like pediculosis and candidiasis, while others like syphilis were very dangerous. Gonorrhea was considered much less serious than syphilis, and if no complications arose, it was cured without any lasting effects.
This is an excerpt from A Hidden Sicilian History by ETTORE GRILLO
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind