The largest Mediterranean island and an autonomous region of Italy, divided from the Italian mainland by the Strait of Messina; area 25,708 sq km/9,926 sq mi; population (2001 est) 4,866,200. It consists of nine provinces: Agrigento, Caltanissetta, Catania, Enna, Messina, Palermo, Ragusa, Syracuse, and Trapani; its capital is Palermo. Exports include Marsala wine, olives, citrus, refined oil and petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, potash, asphalt, and marble. The region also incorporates the Lipari Islands, the Egadi Islands, the Pelagie Islands, Ustica island, and Pantelleria island. Etna, 3,323 m/10,906 ft high, is the highest volcano in Europe; its last major eruption was in 1993.
History Conquered by most of the major powers of the ancient world, Sicily flourished under the Greeks, who colonized the island during the 8th to 5th centuries BC. It was invaded by Carthage and became part of the Roman Empire (241 BC–AD 476). In the Middle Ages it was ruled successively by the Arabs; the Normans (1059–1194), who established the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (Sicily and the southern part of Italy); the German emperors; and then the Angevins, until the popular revolt known as the Sicilian Vespers in 1282.
Spanish rule was invited and continued in varying forms, with a temporary displacement of the Spanish Bourbons by Napoleon I, until Garibaldi's invasion in 1860 resulted in the two Sicilies being united with Italy in 1861. In World War II Sicily was the launch point for the Allied invasion of Italy after it was liberated in 1943.
Physical Hilly or mountainous terrain covers 80% of the island, averaging over 150 m/490 ft above sea-level across much of the interior, even higher along the north coast. Etna is the highest point; the volcano erupts on average every three to four years. The widest fertile plain is that of Catania in the east, but there are also coastal plains in the south and west, and a small fertile plain (the Conca d'Oro) near Palermo in the northwest. The largest rivers are the Simeto, Cantara, Platani, and Salso, none of which is navigable.
Climate The climate is equable, particularly on the northern and eastern coasts. The mean temperature ranges from 8°C/46°F in winter to 27°C/81°F in summer; the sirocco (the hot wind blowing from the deserts of North Africa) sometimes sends the temperature up to more than 38°C/100°F, mostly in the early summer, and summer droughts are a frequent problem.
Economy Agriculture is the island's chief economic activity. Most of the interior is devoted to poor crops of wheat, barley, and maize, with sheep and goats on the meagre pasture. The coastal plains are fertile and intensively cultivated, producing vegetables (artichokes, tomatoes, cabbages), citrus fruits, wines, and some cotton. Other valuable products are saffron, honey, and almonds. Sicily is one of Italy's least developed regions, with a low per capita income and high unemployment. The Mafia's still quite influential presence often hinders attempts by the government to put regional reforms into effect.
The most industrialized areas are around Palermo and Syracuse; petrochemicals are a major product. Manufacturing includes refined petroleum, processed food, fertilizers, leather goods, ships, wine, and forest products. Minerals exploited include rock-salt, potash, ashphalt, marble, and petroleum. The fisheries are important, yielding tuna, sardines, coral, and sponges. In ancient times the fertile soil produced so much wheat that the island was held sacred to Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture, and was later the chief source of Roman corn supplies before the conquest of Africa. The main ports are Palermo, Catania, Messina, Syracuse, and Marsala. Tourism is also important to the economy.
Greek and Roman rule The earliest recorded inhabitants of Sicily were the Elymi and the Sicani, who were driven by the Siculi into the central and western parts of the island. The first foreign settlers were the Phoenicians, who established a number of trading stations; but they too were gradually confined to the northwest by the advent of Greek colonists, who came to be called Siceliotae, or Siceliots, to distinguish them from the native Siculi. Between 409 and 408 BC the Carthaginians, who had long been overlords of the few remaining Phoenician settlements, established a firm foothold in Sicily by the destruction of Selinus and Himera. Their capture of Acragas (modern Agrigento) in 405 made them masters of the western part of the island, and they soon came into conflict with Syracuse and other Greek city-states.
At the end of the First Punic War in 241 BC, the Carthaginians were obliged to evacuate Sicily, the western half of which was made into a Roman province, while the eastern half continued under the rule of Hieron II of Syracuse as an ally of Rome. However, after the revolt of Syracuse in 216 BC during the Second Punic War, and its capture by the Romans in 211 BC, the whole island was included in the province of Sicily and administered by a praetor (Roman magistrate). Sicily was the first Roman territory to be cultivated by slave-gangs. Sicily's resources were heavily depleted by the Romans, who also founded the latifundia (large estates) that later severely hampered the island's economic development.
Later settlement In AD 440 the island was conquered by the Vandals, and then passed to the Goths, who had overrun Italy. In 535 the Roman general Belisarius took possession of the island, and annexed it to the Byzantine Empire. An Arab invasion followed in 827, and by 878 the Arabs had taken control of the entire island. Sicily flourished under Arab rule, recovering from the effects of the decay of the Roman Empire. However, the Arabs in turn were driven out by the Norman conquest of Sicily (1060–91), led by Robert Guiscard, and his younger brother Roger, who ruled the island from 1072 to 1194. Roger II became the first king of Sicily in 1130. His court did much to introduce Arabic learning to western Europe. In 1194 the island passed under the domination of the Holy Roman Empire. At the court of Frederick II, a major political figure and a poet in his own right, a new school of poetry was developed, using the Italian language proper for the first time, and exercising great influence on the formation of Italian language and literature.
After Frederick's death in 1250, Hohenstaufen power waned in Sicily and in 1266 Pope Clement IV invested Charles of Anjou with the Sicilian kingdom. Angevin rule ended in 1282 with the Sicilian Vespers. Peter III of Aragon was invited to become king of Sicily, and Naples and Sicily were united in 1442 when Alfonso V, king of Sicily, won control of Naples. Throughout the second half of the 15th century, and the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, Sicily was loyal to Spain, the House of Savoy (1713–18), the Austrian Habsburgs (1718–34), and then to the Spanish Bourbons. When the French occupied Naples in 1799, the Bourbon court fled to Sicily which was under the protection of the British navy and occupied by British forces.
19th century With the encouragement of the British commander, George Bentinck, a form of constitutional assembly was created to satisfy the separatist demands of the Sicilian nobles. On the restoration of the Bourbons in 1815, Sicilians took exception to the termination of the island's former separate status by the creation of the new Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The island's political, economic, and adminstrative subordination to Naples led to discontent and the growth of aspirations to independence. Sicilians played an active role in the struggles for Italian unification, but Naples and Neapolitan rule were the principal targets of the revolutions on the island in 1820, 1848, and 1860.
The risings of 1860 provided Garibaldi with his opportunity to invade the south, and on 11 May that year he landed at Marsala with his ‘Thousand’ volunteers, rallied the people to his cause, and defeated the Bourbon forces. Having established himself as governor, Garibaldi delayed handing over control of the island to Piedmont, but annexation of the southern state finally occurred after a favourable plebiscite (direct vote) had been arranged. The Sicilians were again bitterly disappointed by the annexation and this, together with discontent arising from poverty, gave Sicily a violent and unhappy history in the late 19th century. Annexation led to the widespread formation of groups of outlaws, and in 1866 to open revolt. Conditions in Sicily increasingly attracted attention throughout the peninsula, leading to a parliamentary inquiry and a private enquiry carried out in 1876, neither resulting in legislative measures.
The island was quickly integrated into the national political system to discourage the opportunities for electoral corruption which the island's social structure offered (see Mafia), and Sicily's tradition of contributing a large proportion of the nation's politicians was swiftly established. This became a further obstacle to reform which, coupled with the rapidly deteriorating economic conditions stemming principally from the collapse of the island's main industry, sulphur mining, contributed to the socialist and revolutionary aspects of the risings in 1893–94 known as the Sicilian fasci. Sicily was at once placed under martial law, the risings crushed, and the socialist unions destroyed. Emigration, especially to North America, provided the main solution to the island's problems after this period.
20th century The decade before World War I saw a major cultural revival on the island in the work of the novelists Giovanni Verga and Luigi Capuana, and the young playwright Luigi Pirandello. Sicily was again the theatre of social discontent after World War I, but showed little enthusiasm for fascism before Mussolini came to power. Beyond a rigorous attack on the Mafia, the fascist regime did little to tackle the island's problems. The Allied landings in July 1943 and the subsequent liberation of the island caused heavy damage, and were followed by the appearance of a new separatist movement in response to which Sicily was granted a degree of regional autonomy in 1946.
During the immediate postwar decades, the governing Christian Democrats followed a policy of eliciting support from conservative forces on the island, including the Mafia, which blocked reform and frustrated the activities of the Cassa del Mezzogiorno (Southern Italy Development Fund), established in 1950. In 1953 oil was discovered offshore near Ragusa and Gela, and the establishment of a refining industry gave the economy of eastern Sicily a firmer base. The island's problems continued to be publicized by a group of writers of high literary merit, including Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (author of The Leopard), Leonardo Sciascia, and the sociologist Danilo Dolci. Sicilian-born winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature in the 20th century were Luigi Pirandello and Salvatore Quasimodo.
Art and architecture Sicily's art has been moulded by the different peoples who invaded it. There are substantial Greek ruins at Agrigento, Selinus, and Segesta. The Greek theatre at Syracuse is hewn out of the solid rock; Greek plays are still performed there occasionally. At Taormina there are a number of Roman remains, including that of a Roman theatre. There are Roman mosaics at the imperial villa at Piazza Armerina. The period of Norman domination offers some of the finest examples of Sicilian art. Buildings at Palermo, Monreale, Catania, and Trapani demonstrate a blend of the Norman idiom with styles showing Byzantine and Arab influence. At Palermo there is a 12th-century Norman cathedral and the Palatine Chapel (1129–43), and a short distance away are the cathedral and cloisters of Monreale, built in 1174, which have beautiful glass mosaics. Many small towns have remains of Norman or Arab castles. The painter Antonello da Messina (1430–79) was a native of Sicily. There are good examples of Italian baroque at Palermo, Noto, Catania, and in the southeast of the island.
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