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Region Sicily, Italy
The largest Mediterranean island, separated from the Italian peninsula by the very narrow Messina strait, Sicily is probably among the regions richest in history, art and cultural heritage, a mosaic of colours and contrasts, from the blue seas surrounding enchanted islands to the magic of the snowy Aetna.
The mountainous, rugged hinterland landscapes offer innumerable trekking itineraries amid the natural parks of Madonie and Nebrodi, where from each summit covered with century-old olive and chestnut trees the visitor can enjoy an all-round view of the island as far as the sea. In the centuries the fertile volcanic lands have given rise to a myriad centres filled with artistic jewels, where pagan traditions survive alongside with Christian rites and medieval customs as the hawk-bearers in Geraci, or the Festa della Spiga in Ganci.
The Provinces of Sicily
Agrigento (AG), Caltanissetta (CL), Catania (CT), Enna (EN), Messina (ME), Palermo (PA), Ragusa (RG), Siracusa (SR), Trapani (TP)
The territory is mostly hilly, though there are some higher mountains along the Northern coast (the Peloritani, Nebrodi and Madonie) and the highest and major active volcano in Europe, Mount Etna (3323 m), and just below lies the fertile, large Plain of Catania.
Sicily is surrounded by many smaller islands, such as Ustica, the Eolie or Lipari group (also called the Seven Sisters), comprising two active volcanoes, Stromboli and Vulcano, then the Egadi group, Pantelleria and the Pelagie Isles.
The face of the land
The majority of the population live in the coastal areas, while the hinterland suffered a massive emigration, which left the inner, rural territories greatly underpopulated.
Sicily is a great producer of citrus fruit, almonds, vegetables, wine and oil, as well as a the first fishing region in Italy. Also the mineral resources are remarkable: sulfur, salt, natural gas, petroleum.
Tourism is a great resource, thanks to the magnificent coastal areas and beaches, the abundance of archeological sites and the art centers, where relics of the Greek, Norman and Saracen civilization are among the richest in Europe, and immersed in a Mediterranean landscape of colors and perfumes that always attracted visitors and poets, like the immortal Goethe who wrote of Sicily "Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen bluhm..." (do you know the land where lemon trees blossom...)
History - Antiquity
The geographical position of the island in the center of the Mediterranean made it a crossword of cultures and peoples, as well as a strategic theater of conflict for political powers. Inhabited since Paleolithic times, as shown by archeological findings in caves along the North-western coast, in the 13th century BC, according to Greek historian Tucidides, Sicily was under three different peoples: the Sicani, originary of Spain, in the center; the Elimi coming from the Middle East in the west and the Siculi who passed to the island through the Messina strais from Italy, in the east.
By the 11th century BC the Phoenicians had established in western Sicily flourishing trade centers, such as Palermo, Mezia and Solunto, which gradually came under the power of Cartage, the most powerful Phoenician colony, while in the east the glorious Greek colonization began with the foundation of such cities as Naxos, Catania, Megara Hyblaea, Syracuse, that soon were equal to the Greek cities in power, wealth, art and culture. After the defeat in the Punic wars, Cartage abandoned its colonies and soon the Romans conquered the also the whole island, making it a Roman Province.
History - the Middle Ages
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.
Where to stay in Sicily
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