The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







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


Towns and Cities

Sicily's principal cities include the regional capital Palermo, together with the other provincial capitals Catania, Messina, Syracuse, Trapani, Enna, Caltanissetta, Agrigento, Ragusa. Other famous Sicilian towns include Cefal¨, Taormina, Bronte, Marsala, Corleone, Castellammare del Golfo Francavilla di Sicilia, and Abacaenum (now Tripi ). The regional flag is divided diagonally yellow over red, with the trinacria symbol in the center.


NASA orbital photograph of Sicily.
NASA orbital photograph of Sicily.

The volcano Etna, is situated close to Catania. Etna 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 volcanos.

The Aeolian islands to the north are administratively a part of Sicily, as are the Egadi Islands 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 Caltanissetta district became a leading sulphur-producing area in the 19th century, but have declined since the 1950s.



A network of motorways crosses the island, much of it raised on columns due to the mountainous terrain.


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. insists that construction is scheduled to commence in 2005 on the world's longest suspension bridge, The Strait of Messina Bridge Project. If and when completed, it will mark the first time in history that Sicily has been connected by a land link to Italy.


Sicily is served by national and international flights (mainly European) from to Palermo International Airport and Catania-Fontanarossa Airport . There are also minor national airports in Trapani and the smaller islands of Pantelleria and Lampedusa.


Sicily is well known as a country of art: many poets and writers were born on this island. The most famous are Luigi Pirandello, Giovanni Verga, Salvatore Quasimodo, Gesualdo Bufalino and the dialectal poet Ignazio Buttitta . Other Sicilian artists include the composers Sigismondo d'India (from Palermo), Vincenzo Bellini (from Catania), as well as the sculptor Tommaso Geraci.

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 1400.

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 decoratations 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 autochthonous peoples of Sicily, long absorbed into the population, were tribes known to Greek writers as the Elymians, the Sicani and the Siculi or Siceli. Of these, the last were clearly the latest to arrive in the island and were related to other tribes of southern Italy, such as the Italoi of Calabria, the Oenotrians , the Choni , the Opicans , and the Ausonians .

Sicily was colonized by Phoenicians and Punic settlers from Carthage and by Greeks, starting in the 8th century BC. The most important colony was established at Syracuse in 734 BC. 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, 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 island, and had its own colonies on Sicily. Palermo was a Carthaginian city, founded in the 8th century BC, named Zis or Sis ("Panormos" to the Greeks). Hundreds of Phoenician and Carthaginian grave sites have been found in necropoli 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 the 3rd century BC 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 BC) all Sicily was in Roman hands.

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 BC 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 island, which remained largely Greek. The most notable event of this period was the notorious misgovernment of Verres.

In AD 440 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. He in turn was defeated and killed by the Byzantine general Narses in 552. Sicily was then ruled by the Byzantine Empire until the Arab conquest of AD 827-965. For a brief period (662 - 668) during Byzantine rule Syracuse was the imperial capital, until Constans II was assassinated.

The cultural diversity and religious tolerance of the period of Muslim rule continued under the Normans who conquered the island in 1060-1090 (raising its status to that of a kingdom in 1130), and the south German Hohenstaufen dynasty which ruled from 1194, adopting Palermo as its principal seat from 1220.

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 Aragˇn.

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 island (1693). Periods of rule by the crown of Savoy (1713-20) and then the Austrian Habsburgs gave way to union (1734) with the Bourbon-ruled kingdom of Naples as the kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

The scene in 1820 and 1848 of abortive revolutionary movements against Bourbon denial of constitutional government, Sicily was joined with the kingdom of Italy in 1860 following the expedition of Giuseppe Garibaldi. In 1894 labour agitation through the radical Fasci dei lavoratori led to the imposition of martial law.

Despite some economic development in the half-century after Italian unification, Sicily was largely bypassed by the industrial growth which transformed the larger urban areas of northern Italy. 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 1950-62 and special funding from the Cassa per il Mezzogiorno, the Italian government's Fund for the South (1950-84). The island 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.

Sicilian people

In the broadest sense of the term, Sicilians are those people who live in or whose ancestors lived in Sicily.

Sicily has been long known as a "melting pot" of ancient cultures and peoples, and highly valued for its location. The inhabitants of the island are therefore descended from numerous peoples, mainly Greeks, Italians, Phoenicians, Saracen Arabs and the pre-colonial indigenous peoples known as Sicans/Sicani (generally residing in the west of Sicily and possibly an Iberian tribe), the Elymi, and the Sicels/Siculi (residing mostly in the eastern portion of the island and probably an Italic tribe).

There is also the presence of Norman, Lombard, Provenšal, Catalan and Spanish blood in some Sicilians, due to either conquest of, or migration to, the island.

Sicilians residing in the east, southeast, and northeast portions of the island are primarily of Greek (and probably Sicel) descent. Cities such as Syracuse (Sirakousa), Messina (Zankle), Agrigento (Akragas), and Taormina/Giardini-Naxos, were originally Greek settlements. In the southwest, west, and northwest of the island, the inhabitants are primarily of Phoenician/Arab and Sican descent. Cities such as Trapani and Palermo were Phoenician settlements.

The few Sicilians with Norman or Spanish blood are found mostly in the large northern cities such as Palermo and Cefalu. Sicilians of Lombard descent are to be found primarily in the centre and central-east of Sicily, in towns such as Piazza Amerina, Nicosia and Aidone, where a Gallic-Italic dialect is spoken to this day. There were also significant Lombard settlements in Randazzo and Paternˇ in the middle ages. San Fratello, in the Province of Messina, was the destination of a large contingent of mercenaries from Provence in the middle ages, and to this day, the San Fratellans speak a unique Provenšal-Sicilian dialect.

Sicilian language

Many Sicilians are bilingual in both Italian and Sicilian, a separate Romance language, descended from Vulgar Latin, with Greek, Arabic, French, Provenšal, German, Catalan and Spanish influences. It is important to note that Sicilian is not a derivative of Italian. Although thought by some to be a dialect, many believe Sicilianu to be a distinct langauge, with a rich history and an extremely large vocabulary (250,000 or more words), due to the influence of the many different rulers of the island. Sicilian is also spoken around Reggio di Calabria and in southern Puglia in Italy. Sicilian also 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.

Sicilian generally uses the word ending [u] for singular masculine nouns and adjectives, and [a] for feminine. The plural is usually [i] for both masculine and feminine. By contrast, in Italian masculine nouns and adjectives that end in [o] in the singular pass to [i] in the plural, while the feminine counterparts pass from [a] to [e].

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-" although the sound itself is not [d] but rather []. For example, the Italian word bello is beddu in Sicilian.

Albanian is spoken in Piana degli Albanesi, a colony of Albanian 16th century refugees, 20 km inland, south of Palermo. While Albanian is spoken within the household, Italian is the official language and modern Greek is chanted in the local Byzantine liturgy.

Famous Sicilians

See also

External links

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