(Edmonde Charles Roux)
Sicily is a Latin name which dates back to the Greek Sikelia; the name of an ancient population which lived on the island called the Sikeloi. The region also has another name, the Trinakria, which means three points. The emblem of the island is the head of Medusa, one of the three gorgons, out of which point three legs bent at the knee as if running one after the other (symbol of the sun in its three shapes - god of spring, summer and winter).
The island’s history, culture, tradition and food & wine have ensured that ‘Sicilia’ is already a brand known throughout the world.
Sicily is an autonomous Special Statue region. This means that there are direct elections for the President and the Regional Assembly and that it enjoys substantial legislative and administrative independence. The Regione has the following bodies – the Assembly, the Regional Council of Ministers and the President of the Region. The President and the Giunta constitute the Regional Government.
Most of its five million inhabitants live in the big cities – Catania, Messina and Palermo. This latter is the region’s capital city and has the highest population with 1 million inhabitants (city and hinterland).
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean. It has the largest surface area of all Italy’s regions and is also the most southerly lying. The Straits of Messina separate it from the mainland by almost three kilometres, and the Sicilian Channel from Africa by just 140 kilometres. The island is roughly triangular and its three sides lie on the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Sicilian Channel and the Ionian Sea.
Sicily has three marvellous archipelagos – The Aeolian islands and Ustica in the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Egadi islands to the west of the Coast of Trapani, and the Pelagie islands and Pantelleria to the south, just a few kilometres from Africa. In recent years the Regional Authorities have tried to take full advantage of this enormous natural heritage and have invested huge sums (approx. 40 million euros) through the “PIR – Isole Minori” (smaller islands) funding scheme.
The island’s morphology reflects the island's historical evolution. The whole of the central part of the island was subject to repetitive tectonic stress which caused the uplifting, deformation and folding of vast areas. The result is a mixture of all of these. Hills cover 61.4% of the territory, mountains 24.5% and plains the remaining 14.1%.
Etna dominates the east of the island. It is an active volcano and is the highest in Europe at 3,263 m. At the foot of the volcano stretch the plains of Catania, the result of centuries of alluvium deposited by the island’s most important river, the Simeto.
The Sicilian coastline is extremely variable. To the north of the island the coastline is mostly high and rocky. It lies on the Tyrrhenian Sea and is dotted with large inlets. To the east, on the Ionian Sea, the coast is more varied with a series of shingle beaches stretching almost as far as Taormina. From the east leading south, lies the great Bay of Augusta, the home of one of the island’s largest commercial ports, after which the east-facing coast returns to being sandy right round to Capo Passer, the southern most point of the island, and beyond.
Its strategic position at the centre of the Mediterranean Sea made it susceptible to long periods of foreign rule over the centuries, which have left trace not only in the island’s culture but also in its economy. Greek rule on the island was a period of great splendour, bringing with it culture and great economic growth. From the Greeks we inherited the pomegranate and the almond, but above all the great expanses of olive groves and vineyards which today produce a large part of some of the best wine in Italy. The Romans did not leave a great deal to the island. They settled here in the 3rd Century B.C. and brought with them the practice of latifundium. These great landed estates caused problems and economic turmoil. From the 9th Century, the Arabs restored splendour and economic stability to the island.
Their crops of carob, bitter orange, lemon, sugar cane, cotton, sumac, date palm and mulberry thrived in the fertile soils and mild climate and these are crops which are still cultivated in Sicily today. Following the Arab rule came the Norman-Swabian rule, which left a legacy of unique art and architecture throughout the island.
Sicily is known above all for the beauty of its coastline, its mild climate and its many archaeological sites, nature parks, Baroque towns, Arab-Norman monuments and for its 14 UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The Regione Siciliana was the first in Sicily to compile an UNESCO approved ‘List of Intangible Cultural Heritage’ (or living heritage). As a consequence, oral traditions, ritual events and festivals and traditional handicrafts changed from being common cultural events into being part of our Cultural Heritage which needs to be protected, promoted and shared with the world. The island’s treasures are kept safe in 4 volumes, each of which contains a particular aspect of our intangible cultural heritage – the Book of knowledge, the Book of Celebrations, the Book of Expressions and the Book of Living Human Treasures.
Throughout the year, Sicily celebrates countless folklore, cultural and religious festivals. Every town has its own traditions, its own festivals and its own events.
The Catholic Church festivals are of great importance within Sicilian folklore. The festivals of Santa Rosalia in Palermo, Sant’Agata in Cantania, Madonna of the Holy Letter in Messina, Santa Lucia in Siracusa and the Good Friday procession in Enna attract thousands of visitors from all over the world.
The large non-religious festivals include the Carnivals in Sciacca, Acireale, Termini Imerese and Racalbuto. The Greek plays in Siracusa and the Cous Cous Fest in San Vito Lo Capo are also world-famous, as are the many festivals and village fairs, the most famous of which is probably the Almond Blossom Festival in Agrigento.
The Sicilian Puppet theatre is also a worth a mention. It was listed in UNESCO’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2001. The Opera dei Pupi is the Sicilian marionette theatre and it brings to life characters from the Charlemagne cycle. The birthplace of the Opera dei Pupi was the Baroque town of Acireale, where this art flourished thanks to the mastery of puppet makers such as the famous Emanuele Macrì. Today, you can still see the puppets at work in the Macrì puppet theatre where daily performances are given.
Hugely popular all the world over is the Theatre Season at the Teatro Massimo. Closed for many years for restoration, it was restored to its former glory and re-opened in 1998.
It is truly one of the most beautiful theatres in the world and every year puts on a full programme of operas, concerts and ballet productions.
Sicilian cuisine is another of Sicily’s treasures which is famous throughout the world, especially
for its abundance of fine quality, wholesome food and wines, extraordinary flavours and good
mix of food both from the land and the sea. In addition, it is also considered the birthplace of
the Mediterranean diet – a perfect example of healthy, balanced eating - ideal for our well-
being and modern life styles.
Today, everyone can have access to this cuisine - thanks to exports of Sicilian preserves, sweets, cheese and dairy produce, wine, pasta, fish, fruit and vegetable and olive sectors.
The cuisine is extremely varied and uses a range of different ingredients, spices and aromas, which are partly the result of the varied landscape of the island, and partly of the various influences from foreign rule over the centuries.
Sicilian wine-growing has made a name for itself in the world. Apart from those all-time favourites such as the Marsala liqueur wine, there are also the highly prized native vines such as Nero d’Avola, and the Designation of Origin vines such as Cerasuolo di Vittoria and Passito di Pantelleria.
The island’s varied landscape provides a varied climatic range also. Overall, the climate is decidedly Mediterranean with hot summers and short, mild winters. There are an average of 2,500 sunlight hours (compared to 2,000 on mainland Italy). Rainfall is scarce and is concentrated in the winter months from October to March. Maximum temperatures are in July and August (an average of 26°C) and minimum temperatures are between December and February with an average of 10° to14°C.
From an economic point of view, Sicily has a wealth of resources. In the primary sector the mainstays are the wine-growing sector – in particular in the Provinces of Trapani, Agrigento and Palermo (regarding area covered by vineyards) – the olive-growing sector (especially in Palermo, Messina and Trapani) and the orange-growing sector (in Agrigento and Catania). Within the manufacturing industry, Catania stands out for its hi-tech sector, Ragusa for its building industry, Siracusa for the petrochemical industry and Messina and Trapani for logistics and ship-building. Finally, Sicily has also developed services connected to the island’s heritage, in particular connected to tourism throughout all the provinces.