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Regione Sicilia
Capital Palermo
President Salvatore Cuffaro
(House of Freedoms)
Provinces Agrigento
Municipalities 390
Area 25,703 km²
 - Ranked 1st (8.5 %)
Population (2003 est.)
 - Total

 - Ranked
 - Density

4th (8.7 %)
Image:Italy Regions Sicily Map.png
Map highlighting the location of Sicilia in Italy
Sicilian disambiguates here; see also Sicilian language or Sicilian Defence.

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 (Siracusa in Italian), Trapani, Enna, Caltanissetta, Agrigento, Ragusa. Other famous Sicilian towns include Cefalù, 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.

This region is faced to Calabria over the Strait of Messina, and that's the only conterminous region. 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 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 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 north of the region - the most important ones being A19 Palermo - Catania, A20 Palermo - Messina, A29 Palermo - Mazara del Vallo and the paid-for A18 Messina - Catania. Much of the motorway network is raised on columns due to the mountainous terrain.

The road network in the south of the country consists of well maintained, yet not motorway-class 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. schedules to the second half of 2006 the beginning of construction 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 small islands of Pantelleria and Lampedusa.


Landscape with temple ruins on Sicily, Jacob Philipp Hackert, 1778.
Landscape with temple ruins on Sicily, Jacob Philipp Hackert, 1778.

Sicily is well known as a country of art: many poets and writers were born on this region, 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 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 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 Cinema Paradiso was about life in a Sicilian town following the Second World War.


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 on this land and were related to other tribes of southern Italy, such as the Italoi of Calabria, the Oenotrians, Chones, and Leuterni (or Leutarni), the Opicans, and the Ausones.

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, 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 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 region, 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 827-902. 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 under the Kalbid dynasty, that made Palermo the capital city of Sicily, continued under the Normans who conquered Sicily in 1060-1090 (raising its status to that of a kingdom in 1130), and the south German Hohenstaufen dynasty which ruled from 1194, adopting as well 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 Aragón.

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). 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.

Before the unification Sicily was one of the most rich and developed regions of Italy, then its national treasure and its facilities were exploited to create the new industrial growth which transformed the poor urban areas of northern Italy into the large economic heart of the nation.

In 1866 Palermo insurged 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 hundred thousands 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 once again to the imposition of martial law.

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 indemnification Fund for the South (1950-84). 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.

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 this region are therefore descended from numerous peoples, mainly Greeks, peninsular 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 Sicilian territory and probably an Italic tribe).

There is also the presence of Norman, Lombard, Provençal, Aragonese and Castilian blood in some Sicilians, due to either conquest of, or migration here.

A common presumption about the peopling of Sicily has been as follows:

Sicilians residing in the east, southeast, and northeast portions of the region 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 region, the inhabitants are primarily of Phoenician/Arab and Sican descent. Cities such as Trapani and Palermo were Phoenician settlements.

However, a recent genetic study (Department of Biology, University of Rome, Tor Vergata, Italy[1]) rejects the above assertions:

The genetic distance matrix used for identifying the main genetic barriers revealed no east-west differences within the region's population, at least at the provincial level. FST estimates proved that the population subdivision did not affect the pattern of gene frequency variation; this implies that Sicily is effectively one panmictic unit. The bulk of our results confirm the absence of genetic differentiation between eastern and western Sicilians, and thus we reject the hypothesis of the subdivision of an ancient population in two areas.

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 Paternó 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 Provençal-Sicilian dialect.

Sicilians are noted for having very dark and expressive eyes; "the eyes of Sicily". However, there are Sicilians with very blue expressive eyes as well.

Sicilian language

Main article: Sicilian language

Many Sicilians are bilingual in both Italian and Sicilian, a separate Romance language, descended from Vulgar Latin, with Greek, Arabic, French, Provençal, 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, 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.

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 [ɖ]. 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.

Famous Sicilians

See also


  1. ^  "Entrez PubMed." Accessed October 24, 2005.

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