Sicily: The Cultural Mecca of the Mediterranean
by Patrick Szabo
looking for a wide mix of cultural experiences, the Mediterranean island of
Sicily should be your next Italian stop.
largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily has been inhabited for
thousands of years by different cultures. This has given it the eclectic
culture it now showcases.
As long ago
as the 6th century BC, it wasn’t too dissimilar from Athens and Ancient
Greek culture—exhibiting Greek temples all over the island. It wasn’t long
after, the 3rd century BC, that the Romans took over control of the island.
The Romans were followed by the Vandals, the Ostrogoths, and then Byzantines.
Era, which began in AD 1060, gave Sicily its elaborate cathedrals and distinct
architecture. The Counter Reformation of the 17th and 18th centuries provided
Sicily with its Baroque-Era churches.
common to hear people say that there is more Phoenician, Greek, Arabic,
Norman, Spanish and French blood running through Sicilian veins than there is
dozens of small towns and large cities to visit on the island, each with its
own historical background and culture. Diversity flows from the many
conquests and occupations of the island over the last 3,000 years.
largest city in Sicily, boasts a mix of Asian and European influences. This
city is situated between two mountains, in a natural amphitheater, and is
packed with churches displaying differing architectural styles. The Duomo was
founded in AD 1184 and has a Norman interior, gothic exterior and
Catalan-styled south porch. Inside are the tombs of Sicily’s kings. If
you’re on the prowl for food in this richly cultivated city, stop by the
Mercato della Vucciria, a city market, and try a buffitieri. These are hot
snacks meant to be enjoyed right in the street.
On the far
west coast of Sicily lies Marsala.
This town is the home to the strong wine named after the town itself, which
has been made here since the 18th century. It is made from native grapes and
has an alcohol content of around 20 percent. It was initially produced in
warehouses, one of which is now host to the Museo Archeologico di Baglio
Anselmi. Here, visitors can find important artifacts from the times when the
Phoenicians ruled the island.
of the most famous and intriguing sights in all of Sicily is the Valley of the
Temples in Agrigento. Aside from Greece, this is one of the most remarkable
areas harboring Ancient Greek buildings. Of course, it’s not in a valley. It
actually is located on a hillside overlooking the Mediterranean Sea to the
south. The complex contains six temples, a first century Roman tomb and a
sanctuary where the Ancient Greeks worshipped the forces of nature. The Temple
of Concord, built in BC 430, is the best-preserved building of them all. It
was converted into a Christian Church in the 6th century AD, thus saving it
necessary stop for ancient temple sightseeing is in Selinunte. This small town
is to the northwest of Agrigento and contains one of the greatest Greek
temples ever built. Erected in the late 6th century BC with 17 huge side
columns, ‘Temple G’ is the nondescript name now given to the structure.
miles off the coast of mainland Italy lies Messina, the first Sicilian city
to be kicked by Italy’s boot. It is accessible by a ferry
that runs to the city from Villa San Giovanni on the mainland.
south of Messina is the modern city of Taormina. Here, visitors can take
advantage of the city’s many restaurants, hotels and sandy beaches. The Greek
Theater in town, dating back to the 3rd century BC, is a main attraction
and is still used to this day for different types of performances. Rebuilt
by the Romans, it is well-preserved and even has an amazing view of Mount
Etna from the seating area.
Sicily’s largest cities is Catania, which was completely destroyed in the
1693 earthquake. Rebuilt during the Baroque Era, it has a multitude of
churches built from that time. The Piazza del Duomo displays a sculpture of
an elephant made out of lava (the symbol of Catania) with an Egyptian
obelisk on its back. La Pescheria, a market in town, is also an excellent
place for tourists to work up an appetite.
Catania and Taormina, still close to Sicily’s eastern coast, is where Mount
Etna can be found. Not at all difficult to spot, Etna is one of the
world’s largest active volcanoes at 3,350 meters (10,991 feet) in
elevation, encompassing 1,190 square kilometers (460 square miles) of land
area. The last eruption occurred in 2001, threatening to wreak havoc on the
town of Nicolosi. Yet, in the past 3,500 years, there have been less than 80
deaths attributed to the volcano.
specifically looking for traditional Sicilian food, seek out these
dishes. For breakfast, try the chickpea fritters called Pane e Pannelle.
For lunch, try a spongy and oily pizza topped with onions and caciocavallo
cheese that the Sicilians call Sfincione. For dinner, sit down to have some
Stigghiola, goat intestines filled with onions.
more to Sicily than historical sights and exotic food, however. Since its
annexation by Italy in 1860, the island has suffered a troubled and corrupt
became Italian property, it transitioned out of feudalism—in which
nobility owned most of the land and enforced the laws with its own military.
Hence after, the Italian government redistributed land to citizens,
increasing private land ownership immensely. Being new to this system,
Sicilian landowners often found themselves in land disputes with neighbors.
To aid this issue, many landowners employed the help of protectors—the
Less than a
century later, the Sicilian
Mafia was spread vastly around the island. In 1925, Benito Mussolini
tried to destroy the Mafia by asserting fascist control over Sicily. This
somewhat worked, as the Mafia became fairly broken up during World War II.
In 1943, the Allied troops invaded the island and began to remove fascist
rulers, appointing replacement government officials who oftentimes turned
out to be members of the Mafia.
later, the law began to hunt the Mafia down.
When Tommasco Buscetta—a Mafia member turned informant—was
arrested, the Maxi Trial was organized to bring the Mafia to justice. From
1986-87, 342 Mafia members were convicted and thrown into prison.
Mafia still exists, but doesn’t aim its violence at tourists.
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