It is one of the five Italian autonomous regions and is officially referred to as Regione Siciliana.
Sicily is in the central Mediterranean Sea, south of the Italian Peninsula, from which it is separated by the narrow Strait of Messina (3 km (2 miles) wide in the north and 10 miles (16 km) wide in the South). It lies about 160 km (100 miles) northeast of Tunisia (northern Africa).
The total area of the island is 25,711 square kilometers (9,927 square miles).
The region has about 5 million inhabitants.
The capital city is Palermo. It is Sicily’s cultural, economic and tourism capital. The city is noted for its history, culture, architecture and gastronomy, playing an important role throughout much of
its existence – it is over 2,700 years old. Palermo is in the northwest of the island of Sicily, by the Gulf of Palermo in the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Catania is the second largest city in Sicily. It was founded in the 8th century BC by Chalcidian Greeks. The city was almost completely destroyed by a catastrophic earthquake in 1169.
Syracuse is a historic city on the Italian island of Sicily. The city is notable for its rich Greek and Roman history, culture, amphitheatres, architecture, and as the birthplace of the preeminent mathematician and engineer Archimedes. This 2,700-year-old city played a key role in ancient times,
when it was one of the major powers of the Mediterranean world. Syracuse is located in the southeast corner of the island of Sicily, next to the Gulf of Syracuse beside the Ionian Sea.
The terrain of inland Sicily is mostly hilly and is intensively cultivated wherever possible.
Along the northern coast, the mountain ranges of Madonie, 2,000 m (6,600 ft), Nebrodi, 1,800 m (5,900 ft), and Peloritani, 1,300 m (4,300 ft), are an extension of the mainland Apennines. The cone of Mount Etna dominates the eastern coast. In the southeast lie the lower Hyblaean Mountains, 1,000 m (3,300 ft).
Mount Etna is the most prominent landmark on the island. It is the tallest active volcano in Europe, and one of the most active in the world, currently 3,329 m (10,922 ft) high. 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.
Sicily’s strategic location at the centre of the Mediterranean has made the island a crossroads of history, a pawn of conquest and empire, and a melting pot for a dozen or more ethnic groups whose warriors or merchants sought its shores.
By around 750 BC, Sicily had three Phoenician and a dozen Greek colonies and it was later the site of the Sicilian Wars and the Punic Wars.
After the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, Sicily was ruled during the Early Middle Ages by the Vandals, the Ostrogoths, the Byzantine Empire, and the Emirate of Sicily.
The Norman conquest of southern Italy led to the creation of the County of Sicily in 1071, that was succeeded by Kingdom of Sicily, a state that existed from 1130 until 1816.
Later, it was unified under the House of Bourbon with the Kingdom of Naples as the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The island 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 on 15 May 1946, 18 days before the Italian institutional referendum of 1946.
However, much of the autonomy still remains unapplied, especially financial autonomy, because the autonomy-activating laws have been deferred to be approved by the joint committee (50% Italian State,
50% Regione Siciliana), since 1946.
Sicily has numerous attractions many of them relating to treasures of the ancient world.
Palermo Cathedral is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Palermo, located in Palermo. It is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. As an architectural complex, it is
characterized by the presence of different styles, due to a long history of additions, alterations and restorations, the last of which occurred in the 18th century.
The Cathedral of Monreale is a church in Monreale, Metropolitan City of Palermo. One of the greatest existent examples of Norman architecture, it was begun in 1174 by William II of Sicily. In 1182 the church, dedicated to the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, was, by a bull of Pope Lucius III, elevated to
the rank of a metropolitan cathedral. The church is a national monument of Italy and one of the most important attractions of Sicily. Its size is 102 meters long and 40 meters wide.
The Cathedral of Cefalù is a Roman Catholic basilica in Cefalù. The cathedral was erected between 1131 and 1240 in the Norman architectural style, the island of Sicily having been conquered by the Normans in 1091. According to tradition, the building was erected after a vow made to the Holy Saviour by the King of Sicily, Roger II, after he escaped from a storm to land on the city’s beach. The building has a fortress-like character and, seen from a distance, it dominates the skyline of the surrounding medieval town. It made a powerful statement of the Norman presence.
The Valle dei Templi is an archaeological site in Agrigento (ancient Greek Akragas), Sicily. It is one of the most outstanding examples of Greater Greece art and architecture, and is one of the main attractions of Sicily as listed in 1997. Much of the excavation and restoration of the temples was
due to the efforts of archaeologist Domenico Antonio Lo Faso Pietrasanta (1783–1863), who was the Duke of Serradifalco from 1809 through 1812. The term “valley” is a misnomer, the site being located on a ridge outside the town of Agrigento.
The Palazzo dei Normanni (Norman Palace) or Royal Palace of Palermo is a palace in Palermo. It was the seat of the Kings of Sicily during the Norman domination and served afterwards as the main seat of power for the subsequent rulers of Sicily. Since 1946 it has been the seat of the Sicilian
Regional Assembly. The building is the oldest royal residence in Europe – and was the private residence of the rulers of the Kingdom of Sicily and the imperial seat of Frederick II and Conrad IV.
The Villa Romana del Casale is a large and elaborate Roman villa or palace located about 3 km (about 2 mi) from the town of Piazza Armerina, Sicily. Excavations have revealed one of the richest, largest, and varied collections of Roman mosaics in the world, for which the site has been designated
as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The villa and artwork contained within date to the early 4th century AD. The mosaic and opus sectile floors cover some 3,500 square metres (37,500 square feet) and are almost unique in their excellent state of preservation due to the landslide and floods that covered the remains. Although less well-known, an extraordinary collection of frescoes covered not only the interior rooms, but also the exterior walls.
The Ancient theatre of Taormina is an ancient Greek theatre in Taormina, built in the third century BC. The ancient theatre is built mostly from brick, and is therefore probably of Roman date, though the plan and arrangement are in accordance with those of Greek, rather than Roman, theatres – thus,
it is supposed that the present structure was rebuilt upon the foundations of an older theatre of the Greek period.
The Necropolis of Pantalica is a collection of cemeteries with rock-cut chamber tombs in southeast Sicily, Italy. Dating from the 13th to the 7th centuries BC., there was thought to be over 5,000 tombs, although the most recent estimate suggests a figure of just under 4,000. They extend around
the flanks of a large promontory located at the junction of the Anapo river with its tributary, the Calcinara, about 23 km (14 mi) northwest of Syracuse.
Sicilians are a diverse people, having had contact with a great variety of ethnicities and physical types through the centuries.
Despite its position at the crossroads of many Mediterranean civilizations, it retains many characteristics of more rural regions bred of its isolation and distance from mainland Italy.
One peculiar feature of the separateness of Sicilian life is the persistence of the Mafia, an organization dating from the Middle Ages that gradually evolved into a paralegal criminal brotherhood. It gives certain parts of the island virtually a dual government, standard of conduct, and system of
enforcement—one is the legitimate regime and the other a shadow, but a pervasive social, economic, and political network maintaining its powers through violence.