Sicily is located in the central Mediterranean. It extends from the tip of the Apennine peninsula, from which it is separated only by the narrow Strait of Messina, towards the North African coast. Its most prominent landmark is Mount Etna, which, at 3,350 m (10,990 ft), is the tallest active volcano in Europe and one of the most active in the world. The island has a typical Mediterranean climate.
Sicily has a roughly triangular shape, which earned it the name Trinacria, from Greek treis, "three", and akra, "promontory". To the east, it is separated from the Italian region of Calabria by the Strait of Messina, about 3 km (1.9 mi) wide in the north, and about 16 km (9.9 mi) in the southern part. The northern and southern coasts are each about 280 kilometres (170 mi) long measured as a straight line, while the eastern coast measures around 180 kilometres (110 mi); total coast length is estimated at 1,484 km (922 mi). The total area of the island is 25,711 square kilometres (9,927 sq mi), while the Autonomous Region of Sicily (which includes smaller surrounding islands) has an area of 27,708 square kilometres (10,698 sq mi).
The terrain of inland Sicily is mostly hilly and intensively cultivated wherever it was possible. Along the northern coast, mountain ranges of Madonie, 2,000 m (6,600 ft), Nebrodi, 1,800 m (5,900 ft), and Peloritani, 1,300 m (4,300 ft), represent an extension of mainland Apennines. The cone of Mount Etna dominates over the eastern coast. In the south-east lie lower Hyblaean Mountains, 1,000 m (3,300 ft). The mines of the Enna and Caltanissetta districts were a leading sulfur-producing area throughout the 19th century, but have declined since the 1950s.
Mount Etna rising over suburbs of Catania
Sicily and its small surrounding islands have some highly active volcanoes. Mount Etna is the largest active volcano in Europe and still plagues the island with black ash with its ever current eruptions. It currently stands 3,329 metres (10,922 ft) high, though this varies with summit eruptions; the mountain is 21 m (69 ft) lower now than it was in 1981. It is the highest mountain in Italy south of the Alps. Etna covers an area of 1,190 km2 (459 sq mi) with a basal circumference of 140 km (87 mi). This makes it by far the largest of the three active volcanoes in Italy, being about two and a half times the height of the next largest, Mount Vesuvius. In Greek Mythology, the deadly monster Typhon was trapped under this mountain by Zeus, the god of the sky, and Mount Etna is widely regarded as a cultural symbol and icon of Sicily.
Sicily has a typical Mediterranean climate with mild and wet winters and hot, dry summers. According to the Regional Agency for Waste and Water, on 10 August 1999, the weather station of Catenanuova (EN) recorded a maximum temperature of 48.5 °C (119 °F), which is the highest temperature ever recorded in Europe by the use of reliable instruments. The official European record – measured by minimum/maximum thermometers – is recognized to Athens, Greece, as communications reported a maximum of 48.0 °C (118 °F) in 1977. Total precipitation is highly variable, generally increasing with elevation. In general, the southern and southeast coast receives the least rainfall (less than 20 in., or 50 cm), and the northern and northeastern highlands the most (over 40 in., or 100 cm).
Sicily is an often-quoted example of man-made deforestation, which was practiced since Roman times, when the island was made an agricultural region. This gradually dampened the climate, leading to decline of rainfall and drying of rivers. This is the reason why the central and southwest provinces are practically without any forests. In Northern Sicily, there are three important forests, near Mount Etna, in the Nebrodi Mountains and in the Bosco della Ficuzza's Natural Reserve near Palermo. The Nebrodi Mountains Regional Park, established 4 August 1993, with its 86,000 hectares (210,000 acres) is the largest protected natural area of Sicily; here is the largest forest of Sicily, Caronia, which is also the second name of the Nebrodi Mountains. The Hundred Horse Chestnut (Castagno dei Cento Cavalli), located on Linguaglossa road in Sant'Alfio, on the eastern slope of Mount Etna, is the largest and oldest known chestnut tree in the world, dated between 2000 and 4000 years.
The original inhabitants of Sicily were three defined groups of the Ancient peoples of Italy. The most prominent and by far the earliest of these was the Sicani, who were claimed by Thucydides to have arrived from the Iberian Peninsula (perhaps Catalonia). Important historical evidence has been discovered in the form of cave drawings by the Sicani, dated from the end of the Pleistocene epoch, around 8000 BC. The arrival of the first humans is correlated with extinction of dwarf hippos and dwarf elephants. The Elymians, thought to be from the Aegean Sea, were the next tribe to migrate to join the Sicanians on Sicily.
The recent discoveries of dolmens on the island (dating to the second half of the third millennium BC) seems to open up new horizons on the composite cultural panorama of primitive Sicily. It is well known that this region went through a quite intricate prehistory, so much so that it is difficult to move about in the muddle of peoples that have followed each other. The impact of two influences, however, remains clear: the European one coming from the North-West, and the other, the Mediterranean influence, of a clear oriental matrix.
Although there is no evidence of any wars between the tribes, when the Elymians settled in the north-west corner of the island, the Sicanians moved across eastwards. In 1200 BC, the Sicels, who are thought to originally have been Ligures from Liguria, arrived from mainland Italy and forced the Sicanians to move back across Sicily and settle in the middle of the island. Other minor Italic groups who settled in Sicily were the Ausones (Aeolian Islands, Milazzo) and the Morgetes (Morgantina). There are many studies of genetic records that show inhabitants of various parts of the Mediterranean Basin, including Egyptian, Phoenician and Iberian, mixed with the oldest inhabitants of Sicily. The Phoenicians were another group of settlers who predated the Greeks.
About 750 BC, the Greeks began to live in Sicily (Σικελία – Sikelia), establishing many important settlements. The most important colony was Syracuse; other significant ones were Akragas, Selinunte, Gela, Himera, and Zancle. The native Sicani and Sicel peoples were absorbed by the Hellenic culture with relative ease, and the area was part of Magna Graecia along with the rest of southern Italy, which the Greeks had also colonised. Sicily was very fertile, and the introduction of olives and grape vines flourished, creating a great deal of profitable trading; a significant part of Greek culture on the island was that of Greek religion, and many temples were built across Sicily, such as the Valley of the Temples at Agrigento.
Politics on the island was intertwined with that of Greece; Syracuse became desired by the Athenians, who, during the Peloponnesian War, set out on the Sicilian Expedition. Syracuse gained Sparta and Corinth as allies and, as a result, the Athenian expedition was defeated. The Athenian army and ships were destroyed, with most of the survivors being sold into slavery.
While Greek Syracuse controlled much of Sicily, there were a few Carthaginian colonies in the far west of the island. When the two cultures began to clash, the Greek-Punic wars erupted, the longest wars of antiquity. Greece began to make peace with the Roman Republic in 262 BC, and the Romans sought to annex Sicily as their republic's first province. Rome intervened in the First Punic War, crushing Carthage, so that by 242 BC, Sicily had become the first Roman province outside of the Italian Peninsula.
The Second Punic War, in which Archimedes was murdered, saw Carthage trying to take Sicily from the Roman Republic. They failed, and this time, Rome was even more unrelenting in the annihilation of the invaders; in 210 BC, the Roman consul M. Valerian told the Roman Senate that "no Carthaginian remains in Sicily".
Sicily served a level of high importance for the Romans as it acted as the empire's granary. It was divided into two quaestorships, in the form of Syracuse to the east and Lilybaeum to the west. Although under Augustus, some attempt was made to introduce the Latin language to the island, Sicily was allowed to remain largely Greek in a cultural sense, rather than a complete cultural Romanisation. When Verres became governor of Sicily, the once prosperous and contented people went into sharp decline. In 70 BC, the noted figure Cicero condemned the misgovernment of Verres in his oration In Verrem.
The island was used as a base of power numerous times, being occupied by slave insurgents during the First and Second Servile Wars, and by Sextus Pompey during the Sicilian revolt. Christianity first appeared in Sicily during the years following AD 200; between this time and AD 313, when Constantine the Great finally lifted the prohibition on Christianity, a significant number of Sicilians became martyrs, including Agatha, Christina, Lucy and Euplius. Christianity grew rapidly in Sicily during the next two centuries. The period of history during which Sicily was a Roman province lasted for around 700 years.
As the Western Roman Empire was falling apart, a Germanic tribe known as the Vandals took Sicily in AD 440 under the rule of their king Geiseric. The Vandals had already invaded parts of Roman France, Spain and Portugal, asserting themselves as an important power in Western Europe. However, they soon lost these newly acquired possessions to another East Germanic tribe in the form of the Goths. The Ostrogothic conquest of Sicily (and Italy as a whole) under Theodoric the Great began in 488; although the Goths were Germanic, Theodoric sought to revive Roman culture and government and allowed freedom of religion.
In the 6th century, the Gothic War took place between the Ostrogoths and the Eastern Roman Empire, also known as the Byzantine Empire. Sicily was the first part of Italy to be taken by general Belisarius, who was commissioned by the Eastern EmperorJustinian I as part of an ambitious attempt to restore the whole Roman Empire, thereby uniting the Eastern and the Western halves. Sicily was used as a base for the Byzantines to conquer the rest of Italy, with Naples, Rome, Milan and the Ostrogoth capital Ravenna falling within five years. However, a new Ostrogoth king, Totila, drove down the Italian peninsula, plundering and conquering Sicily in 550. Totila, in turn, was defeated and killed in the Battle of Taginae by the Byzantine general Narses in 552.
In 535, Emperor Justinian I made Sicily a Byzantine province, and for the second time in Sicilian history, the Greek language became a familiar sound across the island. As the power of the Byzantine Empire waned, Sicily was invaded by the Arab forces of Caliph Uthman in 652. The Arabs failed to make any permanent gains and returned to Syria after gathering some booty.
The Byzantine Emperor Constans II decided to move from the capital Constantinople to Syracuse in Sicily during 660. The following year, he launched an assault from Sicily against the LombardDuchy of Benevento, which then occupied most of southern Italy. The rumors that the capital of the empire was to be moved to Syracuse probably cost Constans his life, as he was assassinated in 668. His son Constantine IV succeeded him; a brief usurpation in Sicily by Mezezius being quickly suppressed by the new emperor. Contemporary accounts report that the Greek language was widely spoken on the island during this period.
By 826, Euphemius, the Byzantine commander in Sicily, had apparently killed his wife and forced a nun to marry him. Emperor Michael II caught wind of the matter and ordered general Constantine to end the marriage and cut off Euphemius' head. Euphemius rose up, killed Constantine and then occupied Syracuse; he in turn was defeated and driven out to North Africa.
The Arabs initiated land reforms, which in turn increased productivity and encouraged the growth of smallholdings, a dent to the dominance of the landed estates. The Arabs further improved irrigation systems. The language spoken in Sicily under Arab rule was Sicilian Arabic and Arabic influence is still present in some Sicilian words today. Although the language is extinct in Sicily, it has developed into what is now the Maltese language on the islands of Malta today. A description of Palermo was given by Ibn Hawqal, an Arab merchant who visited Sicily in 950. A walled suburb, called the Al-Kasr (the palace), is the center of Palermo to this day, with the great Friday mosque on the site of the later Roman cathedral. The suburb of Al-Khalisa (Kalsa) contained the Sultan's palace, baths, a mosque, government offices, and a private prison. Ibn Hawqal reckoned 7,000 individual butchers trading in 150 shops. Palermo was firstly ruled by Aghlabids, later it was the centre of Emirate of Sicily under nominal suzerainty of Fatimids.
Throughout this reign, revolts by Byzantine Sicilians continuously occurred, especially in the east, and parts of the island were re-occupied before being quashed. Agricultural items such as oranges, lemons, pistachio and sugar cane were brought to Sicily. Under the Arab rule, the island was aligned in three administrative regions, or "vals", roughly corresponding to the three "points" of Sicily: Val di Mazara in the west; Val Demone in the northeast; and Val di Noto in the southeast.
As dhimmis, the native Christians (Eastern Orthodox) were allowed freedom of religion, but had to pay a tax, Jizya, and had limitations placed on their occupations, dress and ability to participate in public affairs. The Emirate of Sicily began to fragment as intra-dynastic quarreling fractured the Muslim regime. During this time, there was also a minor Jewish presence.
By the 11th century, mainland southern Italian powers hired Norman mercenaries, who conquered Sicily from the Arabs under Roger I. After taking Apulia and Calabria, he occupied Messina with an army of 700 knights. In 1068, Roger was victorious at Misilmeri, but the most crucial battle was the siege of Palermo, which in 1072 led to most of Sicily coming under Norman control. The Normans finished their conquest in 1091, when they captured Noto, which was the last Arab stronghold.
When Roger died in 1101, he was succeeded by his son, Roger II, who was the first King of Sicily. The elder Roger was married to Adelaide, who ruled until her son came of age in 1112.
The Normans, the Hautevilles, who were descended from the Vikings, came to appreciate and admire the rich and layered culture in which they now found themselves. Many Normans in Sicily adopted some of the attributes of Muslim rulers in dress, language, literature, and even in the presence of palace eunuchs and according to some accounts, a harem. Like the multi-ethnic Caliphate of Córdoba, then only just eclipsed, the court of Roger II became the most luminous center of culture in the Mediterranean, both from Europe and the Middle East. This attracted scholars, scientists, poets, artists and artisans of all kinds. In Norman Sicily, still with heavy Arab influence, laws were issued in the language of the community to whom they were addressed: the governance was by the rule of law so there was justice. Muslims, Jews, Byzantine Greeks, Lombards and Normans worked together to form a society that historians have said has created some of the most extraordinary buildings that the world has ever seen.
Palermo continued on as the capital under the Normans. Roger's son, Roger II of Sicily, having succeeded his brother Simon of Sicily as Count of Sicily, was ultimately able to raise the status of the island to a kingdom in 1130, along with his other holdings, which included the Maltese Islands and the Duchies of Apulia and Calabria. During this period, the Kingdom of Sicily was prosperous and politically powerful, becoming one of the wealthiest states in all of Europe; even wealthier than the Kingdom of England.
Significantly, immigrants from Northern Italy and Campania arrived during this period. Linguistically, the island became Latinised. In terms of the church, it would become completely Roman Catholic; previously, under the Byzantines, it had been more Eastern Christian.
Germanic Holy Roman Emperor
After a century, the Norman Hauteville dynasty died out; the last direct descendant and heir of Roger, Constance, married Emperor Henry VI. This eventually led to the crown of Sicily being passed on to the Hohenstaufen Dynasty, who were Germans from Swabia. The last of the Hohenstaufens was one of the greatest and most cultured men of the Middle Ages, Frederick II, the only son of Constance. His mother's will had asked Pope Innocent III to undertake the guardianship of her son. The pope gladly accepted the role, as it allowed him to detach Sicily from the rest of The Holy Roman Empire, thus ending the specter of the Papal States being surrounded. Frederick was four when, at Palermo, he was crowned King of Sicily in 1198. Frederick received no systematic education and was allowed to run free in the streets of Palermo. There he picked up the many languages he heard spoken, such as Arabic and Greek, and learned some of the lore of the Jewish community. He grew familiar with different peoples, garb, customs and faiths, so that he became unusually tolerant for that period. At age twelve, he dismissed Innocent's deputy regent and took over the government; at fifteen he married Constance of Aragon, and began his reclamation of the imperial crown.
Strong opposition to French officialdom due to mistreatment and taxation saw the local peoples of Sicily rise up, leading in 1282 to an insurrection known as the War of the Sicilian Vespers, which eventually saw almost the entire French population on the island killed. During the war, the Sicilians turned to Peter III of Aragon, son-in-law of the last Hohenstaufen king, for support after being rejected by the Pope. Peter gained control of Sicily from the French, who, however, retained control of the Kingdom of Naples. A crusade was launched in August 1283 against Peter III and the Aragon Kingdom by Pope Martin IV (a pope from Île-de-France), but it failed. The wars continued until the peace of Caltabellotta in 1302, which saw Peter's son Frederick III recognised as king of the Isle of Sicily, while Charles II was recognised as the king of Naples by Pope Boniface VIII. Sicily was ruled as an independent kingdom by relatives of the kings of Aragon until 1409 and then as part of the Crown of Aragon. In October 1347, in Messina, Sicily, the Black Death first arrived in Europe.
The onset of the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 led to Ferdinand II decreeing the expulsion of all Jews from Sicily. The eastern part of the island was hit by very serious earthquakes in 1542 and 1693. Just a few years before the latter earthquake, the island was struck by a ferocious plague. The earthquake in 1693 took an estimated 60,000 lives. There were revolts during the 17th century, but these were quelled with significant force, especially the revolts of Palermo and Messina.North Africanslave raids discouraged settlement along the coast until the 19th century. The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 saw Sicily assigned to the House of Savoy; however, this period of rule lasted only seven years, as it was exchanged for the island of Sardinia with Emperor Charles VI of the AustrianHabsburg Dynasty.
Following this Sicily joined the Napoleonic Wars, after the wars were won Sicily and Naples formally merged as the Two Sicilies under the Bourbons. Major revolutionary movements occurred in 1820 and 1848 against the Bourbon government with Sicily seeking independence; the second of which, the 1848 revolution resulted in a short period of independence for Sicily. However, in 1849 the Bourbons retook the control of the island and dominated it until 1860.
After the Italian Unification, in spite of the strong investments made by the Kingdom of Italy in terms of modern infrastructure, the Sicilian (and the wider mezzogiorno) economy remained relatively underdeveloped and this caused an unprecedented wave of emigration. In 1894, organizations of workers and peasants known as the Fasci Siciliani, protested against the bad social and economic conditions of the island but they were suppressed in a few days. The Messina earthquake of 28 December 1908 killed over 80,000 people. This period was also characterised by the first contact between the Mafia, the Sicilian crime syndicate (also known as Cosa Nostra), and the Italian government. The Mafia's origins are still uncertain but it is generally accepted that it emerged in the 18th century initially in the role of private enforcers hired to protect the property of landowners and merchants from the groups of bandits (briganti) who frequently pillaged the countryside and towns. The battle against the Mafia made by the Kingdom of Italy was controversial and ambiguous; although the Carabinieri (the military police of Italy) and sometimes the Italian army were often involved in terrible fights against the mafia members, their efforts were frequently useless because of the secret cooperation between mafia and local government and also because of the weakness of the Italian judicial system.
Private Roy W. Humphrey of Toledo, Ohio is being given blood plasma after he was wounded by shrapnel in Sicily on, 9 August 1943.
In 1920, the Fascist regime began a stronger military action against the Mafia, which was led by the prefectCesare Mori, who was known as the "Iron Prefect" because of his iron-fisted campaigns. This was the first time in which an operation against the Sicilian mafia ended with considerable success. There was an allied invasion of Sicily during World War II starting on 10 July 1943. In preparation for the invasion, the Allies revitalised the Mafia to aid them. The invasion of Sicily contributed to the 25 July crisis; in general the Allied victors were warmly embraced by Sicily.
Y-Dna haplogroups were found at the following frequencies in Sicily: R1 (30.09%), J (29.65%), E1b1b (18.21%), I (7.62%), G (5.93%), T (5.51%), Q (2.54%). R1 and I haplogroups are typical in West European populations while J and E1b1b consist of lineages with differential distribution within Middle East, North Africa and Europe. According to two recent studies in 2008 and 2009, Greek male influence was estimated at 37% while ancient North African male influence was estimated between 6% and 7.5%.
Lombards of Sicily are a linguistic minority living in northern-central Sicily who speak an isolated variety of Gallo-Italic dialects, the so-called Gallo-Italic of Sicily. The Lombards of Sicily, who came from Northern Italy, settled the central and eastern part of Sicily about 900 years ago, during the Norman conquest of Sicily. Because of linguistic differences among the Gallo-Italic dialects of Sicily, it is supposed that there were independent immigration routes. From Piedmont, Liguria, Emilia, Lombardy they began to spread south between the 11th and 14th centuries. Aidone, Piazza Armerina, Nicosia, San Fratello, Novara di Sicilia are the most important communities.
Arbëreshë settled in Southern Italy in the 15th to 18th centuries in several waves of migrations. They are the Albanian Catholics who fled to Italy after Albania was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. There are three Arbëreshë communities identified within the province of Palermo, which have maintained unchanged, with different aspects together, the ethnic, linguistic and religious origins. The countries are: Contessa Entellina, Piana degli Albanesi and Santa Cristina Gela. The largest center is Piana degli Albanesi, which, besides being the hub religious and socio-cultural communities, has guarded and defended their peculiarities intact over time. There are two other communities with a strong historical and linguistic heritage.
Administratively, Sicily is divided into nine provinces, each with a capital city of the same name as the province. Small surrounding islands are also part of various Sicilian provinces: the Aeolian Islands (Messina), isle of Ustica (Palermo), Aegadian Islands (Trapani), isle of Pantelleria (Trapani) and Pelagian Islands (Agrigento).
Thanks to the regular growth of the last years, Sicily is the eighth richest region in terms of total GDP (see List of Italian regions by GDP (PPP)). A series of reforms and investments on agriculture such as the introduction of modern irrigation systems have made competitive this important industry. In the 1970s there was a growth of the industrial sector through the creation of some factories. In recent years the importance of the service industry has grown for the opening of several shopping malls and for a modest growth of financial and telecommunication activities.Tourism is an important source of wealth for the island thanks to its natural and historical heritage. Today Sicily is investing a large amount of money on structures of the hospitality industry, in order to make tourism more competitive. However, Sicily continues to have a GDP per capita below the Italian average and more unemployment than the rest of Italy. This difference is mostly caused by the negative influence of Mafia that is still active in some areas although it is much weaker than in the past.
Highways have recently been built and expanded in the last four decades. The most prominent Sicilian roads are the motorways (known as autostrada) running through the northern section of the island. Much of the motorway network is elevated by columns due to the mountainous terrain of the island. Other main roads in Sicily are the Strade Statali like the SS.113 that connects Trapani to Messina (via Palermo), the SS.114 Messina-Syracuse (via Catania) and the SS.115 Syracuse-Trapani (via Ragusa, Gela and Agrigento).
The first railway in Sicily was opened in 1863 (Palermo-Bagheria) and today all of the Sicilian provinces are served by a network of railway services, linking to most major cities and towns; this service is operated by Trenitalia. Of the 1,378 km (856 mi) of railway tracks in use, over 60% has been electrified whilst the remaining 583 km (362 mi) are serviced by diesel engines. 88% of the lines (1.209 km) are single-track and only 169 km (105 mi) are double-track serving the two main routes, Messina-Palermo (Tyrrhenian) and Messina-Catania-Syracuse (Ionian). Of the narrow gauge railways the Ferrovia Circumetnea is the only one that still operates, going round Mount Etna. From the major cities of Sicily, there are services to Naples and Rome; this is achieved by the trains being loaded onto ferries which cross to the mainland.
Plans for a bridge linking Sicily to the mainland have been discussed since 1865. Throughout the last decade, plans were developed for a road and rail link to the mainland via what would be the world's longest suspension bridge, the Strait of Messina Bridge. Planning for the project has experienced several false starts over the past few years. On 6 March 2009, Silvio Berlusconi's government declared that the construction works for the Messina Bridge will begin on 23 December 2009, and announced a pledge of €1.3 billion as a contribution to the bridge's total cost, estimated at €6.1 billion. The plan has been criticized by environmental associations and some local Sicilians and Calabrians, concerned with its environmental impact, economical sustainability, and even possible infiltrations by organized crime.
Sicily's sunny, dry climate, scenery, cuisine, history, and architecture attract many tourists from mainland Italy and abroad. The tourist season peaks in the summer months, although people visit the island all year round. Mount Etna, the beaches, the archeological sites, and major cities such as Palermo, Catania, Syracuse and Ragusa are the favourite tourist destinations, but the old town of Taormina and the neighbouring seaside resort of Giardini Naxos draw visitors from all over the world, as do the Aeolian Islands, Erice, Cefalù, Agrigento, the Pelagie Islands and Capo d'Orlando. The latter features some of the best-preserved temples of the ancient Greek period. Many Mediterranean cruise ships stop in Sicily, and many wine tourists also visit the island.
Some scenes of famous Hollywood and Cinecittà films were shot in Sicily. This increased the attraction of Sicily as a tourist destination.
Valle dei Templi (1997) is one of the most outstanding examples of Greater Greece art and architecture, and is one of the main attractions of Sicily as well as a national monument of Italy. The site is located in Agrigento.
Villa Romana del Casale (1997) is a Roman villa built in the first quarter of the 4th century and located about 3 km (2 mi) outside the town of Piazza Armerina. It contains the richest, largest and most complex collection of Roman mosaics in the world.
Necropolis of Pantalica (2005) is a large necropolis in Sicily with over 5,000 tombs dating from the 13th to the 7th centuries BC. Syracuse is notable for its rich Greek history, culture, amphitheatres and architecture. They are situated in south-eastern Sicily.
Mount Etna (2013) is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and is in an almost constant state of activity.
Because many different cultures settled, dominated or invaded the island, Sicily has a huge variety of archeological sites. Also, some of the most notable and best preserved temples and other structures of the Greek world are located in Sicily.. Here is a short list of the major archeological sites:
Sicily has long been associated with the arts; many poets, writers, philosophers, intellectuals, architects and painters have roots on the island. The history of prestige in this field can be traced back to Greek philosopher Archimedes, a Syracuse native who has gone on to become renowned as one of the greatest mathematicians of all time.Gorgias and Empedocles are two other highly noted early Sicilian-Greek philosophers, while the Syracusan Epicharmus is held to be the inventor of comedy.
The Baroque style in Sicily was largely confined to buildings erected by the church, and palazzi built as private residences for the Sicilian aristocracy. The earliest examples of this style in Sicily lacked individuality and were typically heavy-handed pastiches of buildings seen by Sicilian visitors to Rome, Florence, and Naples. However, even at this early stage, provincial architects had begun to incorporate certain vernacular features of Sicily's older architecture. By the middle of the 18th century, when Sicily's Baroque architecture was noticeably different from that of the mainland, it typically included at least two or three of the following features, coupled with a unique freedom of design that is more difficult to characterise in words.
The Sicilian language was an early influence in the development of the first Italian standard, although its use remained confined to an intellectual elite. This was a literary language in Sicily created under the auspices of Frederick II and his court of notaries, or Magna Curia, which, headed by Giacomo da Lentini, also gave birth to the Sicilian School, widely inspired by troubadour literature. Its linguistic and poetic heritage was later assimilated into the Florentine by Dante Alighieri, the father of modern Italian who, in his De Vulgari Eloquentia, claims that "In effect this vernacular seems to deserve a higher praise than the others, since all the poetry written by Italians can be called Sicilian". It is in this language that appeared the first sonnet, whose invention is attributed to Giacomo da Lentini himself.
The University of Catania dates back to 1434 and it is the oldest university in Sicily. Nowadays it hosts 12 faculties and over 62,000 students and it offers undergraduate and postgraduate programs. Catania hosts also the Scuola Superiore, an academic institution linked to the University of Catania, aiming for excellence in education.
The University of Palermo is the island's second oldest university. It was officially founded in 1806, although historical records indicate that medicine and law have been taught there since the late 15th century. The Orto botanico di Palermo (Palermo botanical gardens) is home to the university's Department of Botany and is also open to visitors.
As in most Italian regions, Christian Roman Catholicism is the most predominant religious denomination in Sicily, and the church still plays an important role in the lives of most people. Before the invasion of the Normans, Sicily was predominantly Eastern Orthodox, of which few adherents still remain today. There is also a notable small minority of Eastern-rite Byzantine Catholics which has a mixed congregation of ethnic Albanians; it is operated by the Italo-Albanian Catholic Church. Most people still attend church weekly or at least for religious festivals, and many people get married in churches. However, there was a wide presence of Jews in Sicily for at least 1,400 years and possibly for more than 2,000 years. Some scholars believe that the Sicilian Jewry are partial ancestors of the Ashkenazi Jews. However, much of the Jewish community faded away when they were expelled from the island in 1492. Since there was also a strong Arab presence in Sicily, the Islamic faith was also significant for many centuries. Today, due notably to African and Eastern European immigration to the island, there are also several religious minorities, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism. There are also a fair number of Evangelist Church members and practitioners who reside on the island.
Cannoli, a highly popular pastry associated with Sicilian cuisine
The island has a long history of producing a variety of noted cuisines and wines, to the extent that Sicily is sometimes nicknamed God's Kitchen because of this. Every part of Sicily has its speciality (for example Cassata is typical of Palermo, even if available everywhere in Sicily, as is Granita, a Catania speciality). The ingredients are typically rich in taste while remaining affordable to the general public The savory dishes of Sicily are viewed to be healthy, using fresh vegetables and fruits, such as tomatoes, artichokes, olives (including olive oil), citrus, apricots, aubergines, onions, beans, raisins commonly coupled with seafood, freshly caught from the surrounding coastlines, including tuna, sea bream, sea bass, cuttlefish, swordfish, sardines, and others.
Like the cuisine of the rest of southern Italy, pasta plays an important part in Sicilian cuisine, as does rice; for example with arancini. As well as using some other cheeses, Sicily has spawned some of its own, using both cow's and sheep's milk, such as pecorino and caciocavallo. Spices used include saffron, nutmeg, clove, pepper, and cinnamon, which were introduced by the Arabs. Parsley is used abundantly in many dishes. Although Sicilian cuisine is commonly associated with sea food, meat dishes, including goose, lamb, goat, rabbit, and turkey, are also found in Sicily. It was the Normans and Swabians who first introduced a fondness for meat dishes to the island. Some varieties of wine are produced from vines that are relatively unique to the island, such as the Nero d'Avola made near the baroque of town of Noto.
The best known and most popular sport on the island of Sicily is football, which was introduced in the late 19th century under the influence of the English. Some of the oldest football clubs in all of Italy are from Sicily: the three most successful are Palermo, Messina, and Catania, who have all, at some point, played in the prestigious Serie A. To date, no Sicily's football club has ever won Serie A; however, like in the rest of Italy, football is deeply embeded in local culture, all over Sicily each town has its own representative team.
From 28 September to 9 October 2005 Trapani was the location of Acts 8 and 9 of the Louis Vuitton Cup. This sailing race featured, among other entrants, all the boats that took part in the 2007 America's Cup.
Sicilian arrotino at a living nativity scene wearing traditional Sicilian clothing
Each town and city has its own patron saint, and the feast days are marked by colorful processions through the streets with marching bands and displays of fireworks.
Sicilian religious festivals also include the presepe vivente (living nativity scene), which takes place at Christmas time. Deftly combining religion and folklore, it is a constructed mock 19th century Sicilian village, complete with a nativity scene, and has people of all ages dressed in the costumes of the period, some impersonating the Holy Family, and others working as artisans of their particular assigned trade. It is normally concluded on Ephiphany, often highlighted by the arrival of the magi on horseback.
Oral tradition plays a large role in Sicilian folklore. Many stories passed down from generation to generation involve a character named "Giufà". Anecdotes from this character's life preserve Sicilian culture as well as convey moral messages.
Sicilians also enjoy outdoor festivals, held in the local square or piazza where live music and dancing are performed on stage, and food fairs or sagre are set up in booths lining the square. These offer various local specialties, as well as typical Sicilian food. Normally these events are concluded with fireworks. A noted sagra is the Sagra del Carciofo or Artichoke Festival, which is held annually in Ramacca in April. The most important traditional event in Sicily is the carnival. Famous carnivals are in Acireale, Misterbianco, Regalbuto, Paternò, Sciacca, Termini Imerese.
The Opera dei Pupi (Opera of the Puppets; Sicilian: Òpira dî pupi) is a marionette theatrical representation of Frankish romantic poems such as the Song of Roland or Orlando furioso that is one of the characteristic cultural traditions of Sicily. The sides of donkey carts are decorated with intricate, painted scenes; these same tales are enacted in traditional puppet theaters featuring hand-made marionettes of wood. The opera of the puppets and the Sicilian tradition of cantastorî (singers of tales) are rooted in the Provençal troubadour tradition in Sicily during the reign of Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, in the first half of the 13th century. A great place to see this marionette art is the puppet theatres of Palermo. The Sicilian marionette theater Opera dei Pupi was proclaimed in 2001 and inscribed in 2008 in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.
Today, there are only a few troupes that maintain the tradition. They often perform for tourists. However, there are no longer the great historical families of marionettists, such as the Greco of Palermo; the Canino of Cinisi; Crimi, Trombetta and Napoli of Catania, Pennisi and Macri of Acireale, Profeta of Licata, Gargano and Grasso of Agrigento. One can, however, admire the richest collection of marionettes at the Museo Internazionale delle Marionette Antonio Pasqualino and at the Museo Etnografico Siciliano Giuseppe Pitrè in Palermo. Other beautiful marionettes are on display at the Museo Civico Vagliasindi in Randazzo.
There are several cultural icons and regional symbols in Sicily, including flags, carts, sights and geographical features.
The Flag of Sicily, regarded as a regional icon, was first adopted in 1282, after the Sicilian Vespers of Palermo. It is characterized by the presence of the triskelion (trinacria) in its middle, the (winged) head of Medusa and three wheat ears. The three bent legs are supposed to represent the three points of the island Sicily itself. The colours, instead, respectively represent the cities of Palermo and Corleone, at those times an agricultural city of renown. Palermo and Corleone were the first two cities to found a confederation against the Angevin rule. It finally became the official public flag of the Regione Siciliana in January 2000, after the passing of an apposite regional law which advocates its use on public buildings, schools and city halls along with the national Italian flag and the European one.
Familiar as an ancient symbol of the region, the Triskelion is also featured on Greek coins of Syracuse, such as coins of Agathocles (317–289 BC).The symbol dates back to when Sicily was part of Magna Graecia, the colonial extension of Greece beyond the Aegean. The triskelion was revived, as a neoclassic — and non-Bourbon — emblem for the new Napoleonic Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, by Joachim Murat in 1808. Pliny the Elder attributes the origin of the triskelion of Sicily to the triangular form of the island, the ancient Trinacria, which consists of three large capes equidistant from each other, pointing in their respective directions, the names of which were Pelorus, Pachynus, and Lilybæum. The three legs of the triskelion are also reminiscent of Hephaestus's three-legged tables that ran by themselves, as mentioned in Iliad xviii.
The Sicilian cart is an ornate, colorful style of horse or donkey-drawn cart native to Sicily. Sicilian wood carver George Petralia states that horses were mostly used in the city and flat plains, while donkeys or mules were more often used in rough terrain for hauling heavy loads. The cart has two wheels and is primarily handmade out of wood with iron components.
The Sicilian coppola is a traditional kind of flat cap typically worn by men in Sicily. First used by English nobles during the late 18th century, the tascu began being used in Sicily in the early 20th century as a driving cap, usually worn by car drivers. The coppola is usually made in tweed. Today it is widely regarded as a definitive symbol of Sicilian heritage.
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