Sicily

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 5.1 million inhabitants.

Towns and Cities

Sicily's principal cities include the regional capital Palermo, together with Catania, Messina, Siracusa, Marsala and Trapani.

Smaller towns include Cefal¨, Taormina, Bronte.

Geography

The volcano Etna is situated close to Catania. 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.

Transport

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

Air: Sicily is served by international flights to Palermo International Airport and Catania-Fontanarossa Airport.

Arts

The sculptor Tommaso Geraci was born on Sicily.

History

Sicily was colonized by the Greeks starting in the 8th century BC. The most important colony was established at Syracuse in 734 BC. Other important colonies were Gela, Acragas, Selinus, Himera, and Messene. These city states were an important part of classical Greek civilization -- both Empedocles and Archimedes were from Sicily.

The Greeks came into conflict with Carthage, which was on the African mainland not far from the southwest corner of the island, and had its own colonies on Sicily. In the First and Second Sicilian Warss Carthage attempted to drive the Greeks out of Sicily, at great cost to both sides. A third war left Carthage 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 440 AD 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 827-965 AD. For a brief period 662 - 668 Syracuse was the capital of the Byzantine Empire, 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: partly suppressed under the Fascist regime in the late 1920s, they recovered following the World War II Allied occupation in 1943 (the Allies landed on July 10 of that year).

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.

See also


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