According to the ancient Greeks, life after death existed in Hades, the kingdom of the Underworld, where all the dead were transported with no distinction between good and evil souls.
With cults in the name of the Chthonic deities, the ancients hoped to sweeten the fate that awaited them in the realm of the Underworld. It was only with the advent of Christianity, which spread in Sicily around the 3rd century AD, that the concept of Heaven and Hell was born.
In Palermo, outside the walls of the ancient city, you can still visit the Zisa Palace, founded by the Norman King William I in the 11th century, a grandiose combination of Norman architecture and Arab engineering.
Here in this palace, in the Hall of the Fountain, there is a mosaic depicting the Garden of Paradise where peacocks, archers and even plants seem to come to life and away from the golden tile background that embraces them.
Then, between Noto and Palazzolo Acreide, there is the Church of Maria Santissima Scala del Paradiso, built in 1700 after the terrible earthquake of 1693 destroyed most of the buildings in the Val di Noto. The Virgin, through whom Jesus, the word of God, descends to earth, is depicted in a fresco in the church with a smiling face and a Greek garment. She is surrounded by the heads of angels while she holds the baby Jesus gently in her arms. In the background, on the left of the painting, is the staircase that reaches the sky, where the faithful dead arrive in Heaven.
What with the many references to the concept of Heaven, we must not forget Hell.
In the Middle Ages it was widely believed that the crater of Vulcano, at that time active, was actually the mouth of Hell. The lava flows, as well as the eruptions of ash, vapour and gas, certainly made it the ideal place for a door that swallowed the souls of sinners!