Sicily — History and Culture
Sicily’s history dates as far back as that of Europe itself. Mount Pellegrino’s rock carvings, estimated as well over 10,000 years old, are the oldest surviving evidence of permanent Sicilian settlement. Several centuries later, the Phoenicians established present day Palermo.
The Carthaginians then occupied Sicily for about a century before the island became a thriving colony of ancient Greece. Roman philosopher Cicero once described the Sicilian city of Siracusa, modern day Syracuse, as the most beautiful and renowned city in the whole of ancient Greece. Several of the cities, roads, and buildings established by the Greek colonists still stand today.
When Sicily became a Roman Empire province, the island became known as Rome’s granary and the Romans borrowed several Sicilian recipes and cooking techniques as their own. Although there aren’t many surviving landmarks from the period of Byzantine rule after the fall of the Roman Empire, the island enjoyed much stability and prosperity during the following two centuries of Arab rule. Sicily’s first pasta factory was established during its Arab occupation and the Arabs introduced couscous to the Sicilian people.
Christianity became Sicily’s official religion when the Normans ruled the island between 1060 and 1198, but the Normans also established a groundbreaking law granting equal rights to all of Sicily’s ethnic and religious groups. The island’s next rulers, the Suebi from present day southwest Germany, established numerous castles along the island’s coastline.
Sicily was an independent kingdom for most of the 14th century, when Catania became the location of the island’s first university and the Sicilian people began to establish their own distinct culture and identity. Sicily endured a Black Death epidemic, a devastating earthquake, and a Barbary pirate invasion during its tumultuous period of Spanish rule. King Ferdinand I officially created the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1816 by merging the island with southern mainland Italy.
Sicily enjoyed another brief period of independence in 1848 and officially joined the new Kingdom of Italy in 1861. The Sicilians, however, took a long time to adjust to unification and for them, the 19th century was a period of rebellion, repression, and emigration. Sicily’s infamous mafia often resorted to violence to establish their version of law and order on the island. The last period of turmoil occurred during WWII and the island is now a multicultural, peaceful, and welcoming place.