About Sicily

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Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean. It is one of the autonomous regions of Italy. The region has an overall area of 25,708 square kilometres and a population of five million. The capital of Sicily is Palermo and the provinces are: Agrigento, Caltanissetta, Catania, Enna, Messina, Palermo, Ragusa, Siracusa and Trapani. Sicily’s closest neighbour is Calabria, 3 kilometres to the east across the straits of Messina. The straits widen to about 16 kilometres at the southern end.

Throughout much of its history, Sicily has been a valuable prize, fought over by many warring nations, mainly due to its important position on the Mediterranean trade routes. Cicero described Siracusa as the greatest and most beautiful city of all Ancient Greece. Archimedes, one of the ancient world’s greatest mathematicians, was a native Sicilian, born in the city of Siracusa.


Sicily has a rich and unique culture, particularly in the arts, music, literature, food, wine and architecture. The Sicilian economy is largely based on agriculture, and in particular orange and lemon orchards. More recently international tourists have begun to value the natural beauty of the Sicilian countryside. Sicily is also home to many historic sites such as the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, the Greek theatre at Taomina and the Roman ruins at Siracusa. The great baroque cities of Ragusa, Modica and Noto are also well worth a visit.

Marsala, on the western side of the island, was the starting point for Guiseppe Garibaldi and his army of ‘i Mille’ (The Thousand) in their campaign to unify Italy, ‘The Risorgimento’.

Sicily is well known as the home of one of Europe’s most spectacular volcanoes. Mount Etna, rising to 3,320 metres, is the tallest, active volcano in Europe and one of the most active in the world. It is located near Catania on the eastern side of the island. The Aeolian Islands, to the north-east of Sicily, include Stromboli which is currently active, and also Vulcano, Vulcanello and Lipari which are all dormant.

Mafia-Cosa Nostra

Sicily is equally well known for organised crime. Epitomised by the Corleone family in the Godfather films, Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Mafia, has played a significant part in Sicilian life since the mid 19th century. Their battle against the government reached a low point in 1998 when magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were assassinated outside Palermo. The ensuing public outcry and subsequent government crackdown has severely restricted Cosa Nostra operations ever since.

Languages spokenItalian and other local dialects
Currency usedEuro
Area (km2)25,710
Population5.082 million

Culture and history of Sicily

The collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th century made Sicily a prey to invading tribes, notably the Vandals and Goths, who were however defeated by the Eastern Roman Empire in 553 AD so that Sicily in the following century was under Byzantine rule, which was oppressive and disrupted the originally flourishing trade economies of the coastal cities. During one of the many rebellions a Byzantine officer invited for help Ziyadat Allah I, a Muslim leader from Africa, and this started the Arab occupation, which was completed by 902, when the capital was moved from Syracuse to Palermo. The Arabs ruled with great wisdom, introduced new cultivations and promoted art and culture.In the early 11th century the Normans led by Roberto d’Altavilla invaded the island, and by 1091 the conquest was completed; the Norman rule was tolerant of the different cultures, and introduced the feudal system, while at the same time expanding throughout Southern Italy. The last Norman king, William II, died heirless, so the crown passed to his brother in law, husband to his sister Costanza, Henry VI of Swabia, who was succeeded by Frederick II, one of the most enlightened rulers in the whole Italian history, who made Sicily into the political center of Europe and a modern, model state. At his court art and literature flourished so much so that the Sicilian period is acknowledged as the birth of Italian literature.

In the following centuries Sicily was occupied by the Anjou and then after long wars by the Aragonese with Alphonse who in 1442 united under one crown the whole Southern Italy and had himself called “rex utriusque Siciliae” (King of the Two Sicilies). On the death of this king in 1458, Sicily became a colony of Spain, and a period of great decadence and riots began, which ended only in 1713 with the War of Spanish Succession, when it was given to the Savoy Duke Vittorio Amedeo II, who during his 16 years of power greatly improved the administration, trade and culture. Then in 1734 Sicily came back under the Spaniards with Charles Bourbon.

History – 19th & 20th centuries

A strong resentment began in the following century against the rulers, and Sicily was very active in the Italian Risorgimento, until in 1860 was finally united to the Kingdom of Italy thanks to Garibaldi’s expedition.Unfortunately the Piedmontese rulers tried to impose their fiscal systems in a land which had a great administrative tradition, with a twofold negative consequence: rebellion, which took the form of brigandage, whose ruthless repression only engendered more hostility to the State, and later organized crime. The never resolved problems of Sicily then gave rise in the early 20th century to a massive exodus towards the American and later Australian continents.

Cities of Sicily

Palermo – Catania – Messina – Siracusa – Trapani – Agrigento – Caltanissetta – Enna – Ragusa