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Sicily (Sicilia in Italian and Sicilian, Σικελία in Greek) is an autonomous region of Italy and the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, with an area of 25,700 km² and 5 million inhabitants.


NASA orbital photograph of Sicily

Sicily is adjacent to the region of Calabria via the Strait of Messina to the east.

The volcano Etna, situated close to Catania, is 3,320 m (10,900 ft) high, making it the tallest volcano in Europe. It is also one of the world's most active volcanoes.

The Aeolian islands to the north are administratively a part of Sicily, as are the Aegadian Islands and Pantelleria Island to the west, Ustica Island to the north-west, and the Pelagian Islands to the south-west.

Sicily has been noted for two millennia as a grain-producing territory: olives and wine are among its other agricultural products. The mines of the Enna and Caltanissetta district became a leading sulphur-producing area in the 19th century, but have declined since the 1950s.



Most of Sicily's motorways (autostrade) run through the northern portion of the island—the most important ones being A19 Palermo-Catania, A20 Palermo-Messina, A29 Palermo-Mazara del Vallo and the toll road A18 Messina-Catania. Much of the motorway network is elevated by columns due to the mountainous terrain.

The road network in the south of the country consists largely of well-maintained secondary roads.


Sicily is connected to the Italian peninsula by the national railway company, Trenitalia, though trains are loaded onto ferries for the crossing from the mainland. Officially, the Stretto di Messina, S.p.A. is scheduled to commence construction of the world's longest suspension bridge, the Strait of Messina Bridge, in the second half of 2006. When completed, it will mark the first time in human history that Sicily will be connected by a land link to Italy. In October of 2006 the Italian Parliament scrapped the plan due to underwhelming support. (,,1920199,00.html).

The provinces of Sicily


Sicily is served by national and international flights, mostly to European locations, to and from Palermo International Airport and the substantially busier Catania-Fontanarossa Airport. There are also minor national airports in Trapani and on the small islands of Pantelleria and Lampedusa.


The city of Palermo has an urban metropolitan service, handled by Trenitalia, with eleven stations, including an airport stop.


A daily service operates by Virtu Ferries, between Malta and Sicily, stopping at Pozzallo or Catania

Towns and cities

Sicily's principal cities include the regional capital Palermo, together with the other provincial capitals Catania, Messina, Syracuse (Siracusa in Italian), Trapani, Enna, Caltanissetta, Agrigento, Ragusa. Other Sicilian towns include Acireale, Taormina, Giardini Naxos, Piazza Armerina, Bagheria, Partinico, Carini, Alcamo, Caltagirone, Cefalù, Bronte, Marsala, Corleone, Castellammare del Golfo, Calatafimi, Gela,Termini Imerese,Francavilla di Sicilia, and Abacaenum (now Tripi).


The regional flag of Sicily, recognized since January 2000, is also the historical one of the island since 1282. It is divided diagonally yellow over red, with the trinacria symbol in the center. "Trinacria" literally means "three points", it most probably is a solar symbol even though lately, it has been considered representative of the three points of the island. The head shown on the Sicilian trinacria is the face of Medusa. The trinacria symbol is used also by other regions like the Isle of Man.


Palermo is the regional capital of Sicily
Landscape with temple ruins on Sicily, Jacob Philipp Hackert, 1778

Sicily is well known as a region of art: many poets and writers were born here, starting from the Sicilian School in the early 13th century, which inspired much subsequent Italian poetry and created the first Italian standard. The most famous, however, are Luigi Pirandello, Giovanni Verga, Salvatore Quasimodo, Gesualdo Bufalino . Other Sicilian artists include the composers Sigismondo d'India (from Palermo), Alessandro Scarlatti (from Trapani or Palermo), Vincenzo Bellini (from Catania).

Noto and Ragusa contain some of Italy's best examples of Baroque architecture, carved in the local red sandstone. Caltagirone is renowned for its decorative ceramics. Palermo is also a major center of Italian opera. Its Teatro Massimo is the largest opera house in Italy and the third largest in the world, seating 1,400.

Sicily is also home to two prominent folk art traditions, both of which draw heavily on the island's Norman influence. Donkey carts are painted with intricate decorations of scenes from the Norman romantic poems, such as The Song of Roland. The same tales are told in traditional puppet theatres which feature hand-made wooden marionettes.

The 1988 movie Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, was about life in a Sicilian town following the Second World War.


Main Article: History

The original inhabitants of Sicily, long absorbed into the population, were tribes known to Greek writers as the Elymians, the Sicani and the Siculi or Sicels. Of these, the last were clearly the latest to arrive on this land and were related to other Italic peoples of southern Italy, such as the Italoi of Calabria, the Oenotrians, Chones, and Leuterni (or Leutarni), the Opicans, and the Ausones. It's possible, however, that the Sicani were originally an Iberian tribe. The Elymi, too, may have distant origins outside of Italy, in the Aegean Sea area.

Greek temple at Selinunte (temple E, dedicated to Hera, built in the 5th century BCE.)

Sicily was colonized by Phoenicians and Punic settlers from Carthage and by Greeks, starting in the 8th Century BCE. The most important colony was established at Syracuse in 734 BCE. Other important Greek colonies were Gela, Acragas, Selinunte, Himera, and Zancle or Messene (modern-day Messina, not to be confused with the ancient city of Messene in Messenia, Greece). These city states were an important part of classical Greek civilization, which included Sicily as part of Magna Graecia - both Empedocles and Archimedes were from Sicily. Sicilian politics was intertwined with politics in Greece itself, leading Athens, for example, to mount the disastrous Sicilian Expedition during the Peloponnesian War.

The Greeks came into conflict with the Punic trading communities with ties to Carthage, which was on the African mainland, not far from the southwest corner of the region, and had its own colonies on Sicily. Palermo was a Carthaginian city, founded in the 8th century BCE, named Zis or Sis ("Panormos" to the Greeks). Hundreds of Phoenician and Carthaginian grave sites have been found in necropolis over a large area of Palermo, now built over, south of the Norman palace, where the Norman kings had a vast park. In the far west, Lilybaeum (now Marsala) never was thoroughly Hellenized. In the First and Second Sicilian Wars, Carthage was in control of all but the eastern part of Sicily, which was dominated by Syracuse. In 415 BCE, Syracuse became an object of Athenian imperialism as exemplified in the disastrous events of the Sicilian Expedition, which reignited the cooling Peloponnesian War.

In the 3rd century BCE the Messanan Crisis motivated the intervention of the Roman Republic into Sicilian affairs, and led to the First Punic War between Rome and Carthage. By the end of war (242 BCE) all Sicily was in Roman hands, becoming Rome's first province outside of the Italian peninsula.

The initial success of the Carthaginians during the Second Punic War encouraged many of the Sicilian cities to revolt against Roman rule. Rome sent troops to put down the rebellions (it was during the siege of Syracuse that Archimedes was killed). Carthage briefly took control of parts of Sicily, but in the end was driven off. Many Carthaginian sympathizers were killed-- in 210 BCE the Roman consul M. Valerian told the Roman Senate that "no Carthaginian remains in Sicily".

For the next 6 centuries, Sicily was a province of the Roman Empire. It was something of a rural backwater, important chiefly for its grainfields, which were a mainstay of the food supply of the city of Rome. The empire did not make much effort to Romanize the region, which remained largely Greek. The most notable event of this period was the notorious misgovernment of Verres, as recorded by Cicero in 70 BCE, in his oration, In Verrem.

In 440 CE Sicily fell to the Vandal king Geiseric. A few decades later, it came into Ostrogothic hands, where it remained until it was conquered by the Byzantine general Belisarius in 535. But a new Ostrogoth king, Totila, drove down the Italian peninsula and then plundered and conquered Sicily in 550. Totila, in turn, was defeated and killed by the Byzantine general, Narses, in 552. For a brief period (662-668), during Byzantine rule, Syracuse was the imperial capital, until Constans II was assassinated. Sicily was then ruled by the Byzantine Empire until the Muslim Arab conquest of 827-902. It is reported in contemporary accounts that Sicilians spoke Greek or Italo-Greek dialects until at least the 10th century, and in some regions for several more centuries.

High Middle Ages view of earth
Europe and Sicily are featured in the lower right-hand section. (North is at the bottom of the map.)

The cultural diversity and religious tolerance of the period of Muslim rule under the Kalbid dynasty made Palermo the capital city of the Emirate of Sicily. This continued under the Normans who conquered Sicily in 1060-1090 (raising its status to that of a kingdom in 1130). During this period, Sicily became one of the wealthiest states in Europe, and according to historian John Julius Norwich, Palermo under the Normans became wealthier than the England of its day. After only a century, however, the Norman Hauteville dynasty died out and the south German (Swabian) Hohenstaufen dynasty ruled starting in 1194, adopting Palermo as its principal seat from 1220. But local Christian-Muslim conflicts fueled by the Crusades were escalating during this later period, and in 1224, Frederick II, grandson of Roger II, expelled the last remaining Arabs from Sicily.

Conflict between the Hohenstaufen house and the Papacy led in 1266 to Sicily's conquest by Charles I, duke of Anjou: opposition to French officialdom and taxation led in 1282 to insurrection (the Sicilian Vespers) and successful invasion by king Peter III of Aragón. The resulting War of the Sicilian Vespers lasted until the peace of Caltabellotta in 1302. 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.

Ruled from 1479 by the kings of Spain, Sicily suffered a ferocious outbreak of plague (1656), followed by a damaging earthquake in the east of the region (1693). Bad periods of rule by the crown of Savoy (1713-1720) and then the Austrian Habsburgs gave way to union (1734) with the Bourbon-ruled kingdom of Naples as the kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Sicily was the scene of major revolutionary movements in 1820 and 1848 against Bourbon denial of constitutional government. The 1848 revolution resulted in a sixteen month period of independence from the Bourbons before its armed forces took back control of the island on 15 May 1849.

In late 1852, Prince Emanuele Realmuto had set up power in North Central Sicily. Highly educated, the prince established a political system set to bring Sicily's economy to the highest levels in all of Italy. The Prince's life however was shortened by an assassination in 1857. To this day some of his work is still present in the Italian parliament.

Sicily was joined with the other Italian regions in 1860 following the invasion of irregular troops leaded by Giuseppe Garibaldi and the resultant so called Risorgimento.

In 1866, Palermo revolted against Italy. The city was soon bombed by the Italian navy, which disembarked on September 22 under the command of Raffaele Cadorna. Italian soldiers summarily executed the civilian insurgents, and took possession once again of the island.

A long extensive guerrilla campaign against the unionists (1861-1871) took place throughout southern Italy, and in Sicily, inducing the Italian governments to a ferocious military repression. Ruled under martial law for many years Sicily (and southern Italy) was ravaged by the Italian army that summarily executed hundreds of thousands of people, made tens of thousands prisoners, destroyed villages, and deported people. The Sicilian economy collapsed, leading to an unprecedented wave of emigration. In 1894 labour agitation through the radical Fasci dei lavoratori led again to the imposition of martial law.

Map of the Allied landings in Sicily on 10 July 1943

The organised crime networks commonly known as the mafia extended their influence in the late 19th century (and many of its operatives also emigrated to other countries, particularly the United States); partly suppressed under the Fascist regime beginning in the 1920s, they recovered following the World War II Allied invasion of Sicily.

An autonomous region from 1946, Sicily benefited to some extent from the partial Italian land reform of 1950-1962 and special funding from the Cassa per il Mezzogiorno, the Italian government's indemnification Fund for the South (1950-1984). Sicily returned to the headlines in 1992, however, when the assassination of two anti-mafia magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino triggered a general upheaval in Italian political life.


Originating during the mid 19th century, the Mafia served as protection for the large orange and lemon estates surrounding the city of Palermo. From this, the Mafia began to spread its roots among the landowners and politicians of Sicily. Forming strong links with the government (it is more than likely that many politicians were members or collaborators) the Mafia gained significant power.

During the Fascist period in Italy, Cesare Mori, prefect of Palermo, used special powers granted to him to prosecute the Mafia, forcing many Mafiosi to flee abroad or risk being jailed. Many of the Mafiosi who escaped fled to the United States, among them Joseph Bonanno, nicknamed Joe Bananas, who came to dominate the U.S. branch of the Mafia. However, when Mori started to persecute the Mafiosi involved in the Fascist hierarchy, he was removed, and the Fascist authorities proclaimed that the Mafia had been defeated. Despite his assault on their brethren, Mussolini had his fans in the New York Mafia, notably Vito Genovese.

The United States used the Italian connection of the American Mafiosi during the invasion of Italy and Sicily in 1943. Lucky Luciano and other members of Mafia, who had been imprisoned during this time in the U.S., provided information for US military intelligence, who used Luciano's influence to ease the way for advancing American troops.[5]

Some mafia analysts, such as the Catanese author Alfio Caruso, argue that the U.S. Office of Strategic Services deliberately allowed the mafia to recover its social and economic position as the "anti-State" in Sicily and that the U.S.-mafia alliance forged in 1943 was the true turning point of mafia history and the foundation of its subsequent 60-year career. Others, such as the Palermitan historian Francesco Renda, have argued that there was no such alliance. Rather, the mafia exploited the chaos of post-fascist Sicily to reconquer its social base. The OSS indeed, in its 1944 "Report on the Problem of Mafia" by the agent W. E. Scotten, pointed to the signs of mafia resurgence and warned of its perils for social order and economic progress. According to many Sicilians, the real name of the Mafia is Cosa Nostra, meaning 'our world, tradition, values'. Many have claimed, as did the Mafia turncoat Tommaso Buscetta, that the word mafia was a literary creation. Other Mafia defectors, such as Antonio Calderone and Salvatore Contorno, said the same thing. According to them, the real thing was "cosa nostra". To men of honour belonging to the organisation, there is no need to name it. Mafiosi introduce known members to other known members as belonging to "cosa nostra" (our thing) or "la stessa cosa" (the same thing). Only the outside world needs a name to describe it, hence the capitalized version of the words: Cosa Nostra.

Cosa Nostra was first used, in the beginning of the 1960s, in the United States by Joseph Valachi, a mafioso turned state witness, during the hearings of the McClellan Commission. At the time, it was understood as a proper name, fostered by the FBI and disseminated by the media. The designation gained wide popularity and almost replaced the term Mafia. The FBI even added an article to the term, calling it 'La Cosa Nostra'. In Italy the article 'la' is never used when the term refers to the Mafia; commonly "la nostra cosa" is used when meaning "our thing" in general contexts.


The position of Sicily as a stepping stone of sorts in the center of the Mediterranean Basin has lent it strategic importance throughout history, resulting in an endless procession of settlers and conquerors. Modern methods of genetic testing enable us to see which have had the greatest demographic impact. Several studies show strong ties between Sicily, mainland southern Italy and Greece, L.L. Cavalli-Sforza (1997) Genes, peoples, and languages Vona et al. (1998) Genetic structure of western Sicily Rickards et al. (1998) Genetic history of the population of Sicily Francalacci et al. (2003) Peopling of Three Mediterranean Islands (Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily) Inferred by Y-Chromosome Biallelic Variability DiGiacomo et al. (2004) Y chromosomal haplogroup J as a signature of the post-neolithic colonization of Europe suggesting that the Siculi, Elymi and Greek colonizations were the most important.

It has been proposed that a genetic boundary divides Sicily into two regions, reflecting the distribution of Siculi and Greek settlements in the east, and Sicani/Elymi, Phoenician/Arab and Norman settlements in the west. New data on the genetic structure of the population of Sicily: analysis of the Alia population (Palermo, Italy) Autosomal microsatellite and mtDNA genetic analysis in Sicily (Italy) Genetic analysis of a Sicilian population using 15 short tandem repeats However, other research has failed to detect any such division. Walter et al. (1997) GM and KM allotypes in nine population samples of Sicily No data exists on the contribution of Normans, but a number of studies hint that North African and Middle Eastern gene flow was limited by the physical barrier of the Mediterranean Sea and resulting cultural differentiation. Patterns of gene flow inferred from genetic distances in the Mediterranean region Red cell enzyme polymorphisms in Moroccans and Southern Spaniards: New data for the genetic history of the Western Mediterranean Human Y-chromosome variation in the western Mediterranean area: Implications for the peopling of the region Phylogeographic Analysis of Haplogroup E3b (E-M215) Y Chromosomes Reveals Multiple Migratory Events Within and Out of Africa Capelli et al. (2005) Population Structure in the Mediterranean Basin: A Y Chromosome Perspective

Sicily's population is approximately 5 million, and there are an additional 10 million people of Sicilian descent around the world, mostly in the United States, Argentina, Canada, Australia and other EU countries. The island today, like all of western Europe, is home to growing communities of immigrants, including Tunisians, Moroccans, Nigerians, Indians, Romanians, Russians, Chinese and Gypsies from the Balkans.


Also see: Languages of Italy

Many Sicilians are bilingual in both Italian and Sicilian, a separate Romance language, with Greek, Arabic, Catalan and Spanish influence. It is important to note that Sicilian is not a derivative of Italian. Although thought by some to be a dialect, Sicilianu is a distinct language, with a rich history and a sizeable vocabulary (at least 250,000 words), due to the influence of the different conquerors of, and settlers to, this land. Sicilian dialects are also spoken in the southern and central sections of the Italian regions Calabria (Calabrese) and Puglia (Salentino); and had a significant influence on the Maltese Language, which was a part of the Kingdom of Sicily (in its various forms) until the late 18th century. With the predominance of Italian in Italian schools, the media, etc., Sicilian is no longer the first language of many Sicilians. Indeed, in urban centers in particular, one is more likely to hear standard Italian spoken rather than Sicilian, especially among the young.

The "-LL-" sound (in words of Latin origin, for example) manifests itself in Sicilian as a voiced retroflex plosive with the tip of the tongue curled up and back, a sound which is not part of Standard Italian. In Sicilian, this sound is written simply as "-dd-". For example, the Italian word bello is beddu in Sicilian.

In numerous villages, the Arbëreshë dialect of the Albanian language has been spoken since a wave of refugees settled there in the 15th century. While it is spoken within the household, Italian is the official language and modern Greek is chanted in the local Byzantine liturgy. There are also several areas where dialects of the Lombard language of the Gallo-Italic family are spoken. Much of this population is also tri-lingual, being able to also speak one of the Sicilian dialects as well.

List of Sicilians

Archimedes of Syracuse
Vincenzo Bellini
Giovanni Falcone

Bosses of the Mafia

Historical monarchs of Sicily

See also

External links


Regions of Italy
AbruzzoAosta ValleyApuliaBasilicataCalabriaCampaniaEmilia-RomagnaFriuli-Venezia GiuliaLazioLiguriaLombardyMarcheMolisePiedmontSardiniaSicilyTrentino-South TyrolTuscanyUmbriaVeneto