Why Sail Sicily?
Sicily’s list of invaders features all the usuals, the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Byzantines, Spaniards and the Normans with their Kings, King Roger, William the Bad and Walter the Archbishop.
Sicily First, Italy Second
The island’s most important cultural influence originates from its first inhabitants, the Sicani from North Africa, the Siculi from Italy and the Elymni from Greece in the south. The subsequent colonization of the island by the Carthaginians (also from North Africa) and the Greeks, in the 8th and 6th centuries BC respectively, compounded this cultural divide through decades of war when powerful opposing cities, such as Palermo and Catalina, struggled to dominate the island.
Sicily: part Arab, part Roman, part Greek and part Norman
Although part of the Roman Empire, it was not until the Arab invasions of AD 831 that Sicily truly came into its own. Trade, farming and mining were all fostered under Arab influence and Sicily soon became an prize for European opportunists. The Normans invaded in 1061 and made Palermo the centre of their expanding empire and the finest city in the Mediterranean.
Impressed by the cultured Arab lifestyle, King Roger squandered vast sums on ostentatious palaces and churches and encouraged a hedonistic atmosphere in his court. But such prosperity – and decadence (Roger’s grandson, William II, even had a harem) – inevitably gave rise to envy and resentment and, after 400 years of pleasure and profit, the Norman line was extinguished and the kingdom passed to the austere German House of Hohenstaufen with little opposition. In the centuries that followed, Sicily passed to the Holy Roman Emperors, Angevins (French), Aragonese (Spanish) and Austrians in turmoil of rebellion and revolution that continued until the Spanish Bourbons united Sicily with Naples in 1734 as the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Little more than a century later in 1860, Giuseppe Garibaldi planned his daring and dramatic unification of Italy from Marsala.
Reeling from this catalogue of colonizers, Sicilians struggled in poverty-stricken conditions. Unified with Italy but no better off, nearly one million men and women immigrated to the US between 1871 and 1914 before the outbreak of WWI.
After World War II
Ironically, the Allies (seeking Mafia help in America for the reinvasion of Italy) helped in establishing the Mafia’s stranglehold on Sicily. In the absence of suitable administrators, they invited the undesirable mafiosi Don Calógero Vizzini to do the job. When Sicily became a semi-autonomous region in 1948, Mafia control extended right to the heart of politics and the country plunged into a 50-year silent civil war. It only started to emerge from this after the anti-Mafia maxi-trials of the 1990s
Today most Sicilians continue to be less than enthralled by an organisation that continues to grow rich on money from the illegal drugs trade, human trafficking and extortion and protection which, experts say, many businesses in Sicily still pay. The violence of the 1980s has diminished and there have been some important arrests.