What you need to know
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. It constitutes an autonomous Region of Italy, along with surrounding minor islands, officially referred to as Regione Siciliana (in Italian, Sicilian Region) . Sicily is located in the central Mediterranean Sea, south of the Italian Peninsula, from which it is separated by the narrow Strait of Messina. Its most prominent landmark is Mount Etna, the tallest active volcano in Europe, currently 3,329 m (10,922 ft) high, and one of the most active in the world. The island has a typical Mediterranean climate. The earliest archaeological evidence of human activity on the island dates from as early as 12,000 BC. By around 750 BC, Sicily had three Phoenician and a dozen Greek colonies and, for the next 600 years, it was the site of the Sicilian Wars and the Punic Wars, which ended with the Roman Republic‘s destruction of Carthage at the battle of Carthage (c. 149 BC). Sicily frequently changed hands after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, and it was ruled during the early Middle Ages by the Vandals, Ostrogoths, Byzantine Empire, and the Emirate of Sicily. The Norman conquest of southern Italy led to the creation of the Kingdom of Sicily, which was subsequently ruled by the Hohenstaufen, the Capetian House of Anjou, Spain, theHouse of Habsburg, and then finally unified under the House of Bourbon with the Kingdom of Naples as the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. It became part of Italy in 1860 following the Expedition of the Thousand, a revolt led by Giuseppe Garibaldi during the Italian unification, and a plebiscite. Sicily was given special status as an autonomous region after the Italian constitutional referendum of 1946. Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature, cuisine, and architecture. It is also home to important archaeological and ancient sites, such as the Necropolis of Pantalica, the Valley of the Temples, and Selinunte.
Area: 25,711 km²
Population: 5.082 million
The currency used in Italy and Sicily is the euro, whose official abbreviation is EUR. The symbol of the euro is a stylized E: €. Frommer’s lists exact prices in the local currency, euros.
Sicily has long been associated with the arts; many poets, writers, philosophers, intellectuals, architects and painters have roots on the island. The history of prestige in this field can be traced back to Greek philosopher Archimedes, a Syracuse native who has gone on to become renowned as one of the greatest mathematicians of all time. Gorgias and Empedocles are two other highly noted early Sicilian-Greek philosophers, while the Syracusan Epicharmus is held to be the inventor of comedy.
The island has a long history of producing a variety of noted cuisines and wines, to the extent that Sicily is sometimes nicknamed God’s Kitchen because of this. Every part of Sicily has its specialty (for example Cassata is typical of Palermo, even if available everywhere in Sicily, as is Granita, a Catania speciality). The ingredients are typically rich in taste while remaining affordable to the general public. The savory dishes of Sicily are viewed to be healthy, using fresh vegetables and fruits, such as tomatoes, artichokes, olives (including olive oil), citrus, apricots, aubergines, onions, beans, raisins commonly coupled with seafood, freshly caught from the surrounding coastlines, including tuna, sea bream, sea bass, cuttlefish, swordfish, sardines, and others.
Thanks to the regular growth of the last years, Sicily is the eighth richest region of Italy in terms of total GDP (see List of Italian regions by GDP). A series of reforms and investments on agriculture such as the introduction of modern irrigation systems have made this important industry competitive. In the 1970s there was a growth of the industrial sector through the creation of some factories. In recent years the importance of the service industry has grown for the opening of several shopping malls and for a modest growth of financial and telecommunication activities. Tourism is an important source of wealth for the island thanks to its natural and historical heritage. Today Sicily is investing a large amount of money on structures of the hospitality industry, in order to make tourism more competitive. However, Sicily continues to have a GDP per capital below the Italian average and more unemployment than the rest of Italy. This difference is mostly caused by the negative influence of Mafia that is still active in some areas although it is much weaker than in the past.
Flora and fauna
Sicily is an often-quoted example of man-made deforestation, which has occurred since Roman times, when the island was turned into an agricultural region. This gradually dried the climate, leading to a decline in rainfall and the drying of rivers. The central and southwest provinces are practically devoid of any forest. In Northern Sicily, there are three important forests; near Mount Etna, in the Nebrodi Mountains and in the Bosco della Ficuzza’s Natural Reserve near Palermo. The Nebrodi Mountains Regional Park, established on 4 August 1993 and covering 86,000 hectares (210,000 acres), is the largest protected natural area of Sicily; and contains the largest forest in Sicily, the Caronia. The Hundred Horse Chestnut (Castagno dei Cento Cavalli), in Sant’Alfio, on the eastern slopes of Mount Etna, is the largest and oldest known chestnut tree in the world at 2,000 – 4,000 years old. Sicily has a good variety of fauna. Species include Cirneco dell’Etna, fox, least weasel, pine marten,roe deer, wild boar, crested porcupine, hedgehog, common toad, Vipera aspis, golden eagle,peregrine falcon, hoopoe and black-winged stilt. Sicily is an important habitat for the survival of several species, an example being the subspecies of hooded crow Corvus cornix which is only found in Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica.
The original inhabitants of Sicily were three defined groups of the ancient peoples of Italy. The most prominent and by far the earliest of these was the Sicani, who were said by Thucydides to have arrived from the Iberian Peninsula(perhaps Catalonia). Important historical evidence has been discovered in the form of cave drawings by the Sicani, dated from the end of the Pleistocene epoch around 8000 BC. The arrival of the first humans on the island is correlated with the extinction of the Sicilian Hippopotamus and the dwarf elephant. The Elymians, thought to be from the Aegean Sea, were the next tribe to join the Sicanians on Sicily. Recent discoveries of dolmens on the island (dating to the second half of the third millennium BC) seems to offer new insights into the culture of primitive Sicily. It is well known that the Mediterranean region went through a quite intricate prehistory, so much so that it is difficult to piece together the muddle of different peoples who have followed each other. The impact of two influences is clear, however: the European one coming from the Northwest, and the Mediterranean influence of a clear eastern heritage. There is no evidence of any warring between the tribes, but the Sicanians moved eastwards when the Elymians settled in the northwest corner of the island. The Sicels are thought to have originated in Liguria; they arrived from mainland Italy in 1200 BC and forced the Sicanians to move back across Sicily and settle in the middle of the island. Other minor Italic groups who settled in Sicily were the Ausones (Aeolian Islands, Milazzo) and the Morgetes of Morgantina. Studies of genetic records reveal that peoples from various parts of the Mediterranean Basin mixed with the ancient inhabitants of Sicily, including Egyptians and Iberians.
most people are bilingual and speak both Italian and Sicilian, a distinct and historical Romance language. Some of the Sicilian words are loan words from Greek, Catalan, French, Arabic, Spanish and other languages. Dialects related to Sicilian are also spoken in Calabria and Salento; it had a significant influence on the Maltese language. However the use of Sicilian is limited to informal contexts (mostly in family) and in a majority of cases it is replaced by the so-called regional Italian of Sicily, an Italian dialect that is a kind of mix between Italian and Sicilian.
The politics of Sicily takes place in a framework of a presidential representative democracy, whereby the President of Regional Government is the head of government, and of a pluriform multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the Regional Government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Sicilian Regional Assembly. The capital of Sicily is Palermo. Traditionally, Sicily gives centre-right results during election. From 1943 to 1951 there was also a separatist political party called Sicilian Independence Movement (Movimento Indipendentista Siciliano, MIS). Its best electoral result was in the 1946 general election, when MIS obtained 0.7% of national votes (8.8% of votes in Sicily), and four seats. However, the movement lost all its seats following the 1948 general election and the 1951 regional election. Even though it has never been formally disbanded, today the movement is no longer part of the politics of Sicily. After World War II Sicily became a stronghold of the Christian Democracy, in opposition to the Italian Communist Party. The Communists and their successors (the Democratic Party of the Left, the Democrats of the Left and the present-day Democratic Party) had never won in the region until 2012. Sicily is now governed by a center-left coalition between Democratic Party and the center-party Union of Christian and Centre Democrats. Rosario Crocetta is the current President since 2012.
There are several cultural icons and regional symbols in Sicily, including flags, carts, sights and geographical features.
A traditional Sicilian cart
The Sicilian cart is an ornate, colorful style of horse or donkey-drawn cart native to Sicily. Sicilian wood carver George Petralia states that horses were mostly used in the city and flat plains, while donkeys or mules were more often used in rough terrain for hauling heavy loads. The cart has two wheels and is primarily handmade out of wood with iron components.
The Sicilian coppola is a traditional kind of flat cap typically worn by men in Sicily. First used by English nobles during the late 18th century, the tascu began being used in Sicily in the early 20th century as a driving cap, usually worn by car drivers. The coppola is usually made in tweed. Today it is widely regarded as a definitive symbol of Sicilian heritage.
The island is drained by several rivers, most of which flow through the central area and enter the sea at the south of the island. The Salso flows through parts of Enna and Caltanissetta before entering the Mediterranean Sea at the port of Licata. To the east, the Alcantara flows through the province of Messina and enters the sea at Giardini Naxos, and the Simeto, which flows into the Ionian Sea south of Catania. Other important rivers on the island are the Belice and Platani in the southwest.
Highways have recently been built and expanded in the last four decades. The most prominent Sicilian roads are the motorways (known as autostrada) running through the northern section of the island. Much of the motorway network is elevated by columns due to the mountainous terrain of the island. Other main roads in Sicily are the Strade Statali like the SS.113 that connects Trapani to Messina (via Palermo), the SS.114 Messina-Syracuse (via Catania) and the SS.115 Syracuse-Trapani (via Ragusa, Gela and Agrigento).
Railways, The first railway in Sicily was opened in 1863 (Palermo-Bagheria) and today all of the Sicilian provinces are served by a network of railway services, linking to most major cities and towns; this service is operated by Trenitalia. Of the 1,378 km (856 mi) of railway tracks in use, over 60% has been electrified whilst the remaining 583 km (362 mi) are serviced by diesel engines. 88% of the lines (1.209 km) are single-track and only 169 km (105 mi) are double-track serving the two main routes, Messina-Palermo (Tyrrhenian) and Messina-Catania-Syracuse (Ionian). Of the narrow gauge railways the Ferrovia Circumetnea is the only one that still operates, going round Mount Etna. From the major cities of Sicily, there are services to Naples and Rome; this is achieved by the trains being loaded onto ferries which cross to the mainland.
Ports By sea, Sicily is served by several ferry routes and cargo ports, and in all major cities, cruise ships dock on a regular basis.
- Mainland Italy: Ports connecting to the mainland are Messina (route to Villa San Giovanni and Salerno), the busiest passenger port in Italy, Palermo (routes to Genoa, Civitavecchia and Naples) and Catania (route to Naples) .
- Sicily’s small surrounding islands: The port of Milazzo serves the Aeolian Islands, the ports of Trapani and Marsala the Aegadian Islands and the port of Porto Empedocle the Pelagie Islands. From Palermo there is a service to the island of Ustica and to Sardinia.
- International connections: From Palermo and Trapani there are weekly services to Tunisia and there is also a daily service between Malta and Pozzallo.
- Commercial/Cargo Ports: The port of Augusta is the 5th largest cargo port in Italy which handles tonnes of goods. Other major cargo ports are Palermo, Catania, Trapani, Pozzallo and Termini Imerese.
- Touristic Ports: Several “Touristic ports” along the Sicilian coast are in the service of private boats that need to moor on the island. The main ports for this traffic are inMarina di Ragusa, Riposto, Portorosa, Syracuse, Cefalù and Sciacca. In Sicily, Palermo is also a major center for the Boat Rental l with or without crew in the Mediterranean. Is the home of some of the charter companies such as Velasud Yachting Italy, with the nautical base in Palermo Marina Arenella Yachting Club with a fleet of 10 yachts including sailboats and catamarans up to 52 feet. In Palermo, and in general in Sicily, there are a number of boat rental companies, many of these do not have the ownership. Most of them are just simply brokers. Other companies well known in Palermo and Portorosa (Messina) are Best Charter and Jonio Yachting.
- Fishing ports: As all islands, Sicily also has many fishing ports. The most important is in Mazara del Vallo followed by Castellamare del Golfo, Licata, Scoglitti and Portopalo di Capo Passero.
Sicily’s sunny, dry climate, scenery, cuisine, history and architecture attract many tourists from mainland Italy and abroad. The tourist season peaks in the summer months, although people visit the island all year round. Mount Etna, the beaches, the archeological sites, and major cities such as Palermo, Catania, Syracuse and Ragusa are the favorite tourist destinations, but the old town of Taormina and the neighboring seaside resort of Giardini Naxos draw visitors from all over the world, as do the Aeolian Islands, Erice, Cefalù, Agrigento, the Pelagie Islands and Capo d’Orlando. The last features some of the best-preserved temples of the ancient Greek period. Many Mediterranean cruise ships stop in Sicily, and many wine tourists also visit the island. Some scenes of famous Hollywood and Cinecittà films were shot in Sicily. This increased the attraction of Sicily as a tourist destination.
Sicily has a typical Mediterranean climate with mild and wet winters and hot, dry summers. On almost any average day, temperatures in Sicily may rise up to 44 °C (111 °F). According to the Regional Agency for Waste and Water, on 10 August 1999, the weather station of Catenanuova (EN) recorded a maximum temperature of 48.5 °C (119 °F), which is the highest temperature ever recorded in Europe by the use of reliable instruments. The official European record – measured by minimum/maximum thermometers – is held by Athens, Greece, as communications reported a maximum of 48.0 °C (118 °F) in 1977. Total precipitation is highly variable, generally increasing with elevation. In general, the southern and southeast coast receives the least rainfall (less than 50 cm (20 in)), and the northern and northeastern highlands the most (over 100 cm (39 in).