Carthage, Greece, Rome, North Africans, Normans, Spaniards and Bourbons have all taken their turns as invaders of Sicily. Some would argue that even the Italians are perhaps no more than the latest group to colonise this fiercely disobedient Mediterranean island. As each culture’s influence has waxed and inevitably waned it has left a legacy in the architectural ruins that are still there for visitors to admire as they make their way across Sicily.
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean and is separated from the mainland by only 3km of water in the Strait of Messina. Its highest point is the summit of Mount Etna, an active volcano which at frequent intervals erupts in a shower of molten lava and causes chaos for those living on its fertile slopes. Sicily is home to a population of 5,000,000 people; such is the strength of local identity that if you ask the average resident they will probably tell you that they are Sicilian first and Italian second.
English visitors, especially those from the north of the country, may be struck by the coppola, the flat cap worn by many rural men and very reminiscent of the flat cap of northern England. The history of the Sicilian version does indeed derive from the British equivalent; in 1800 the Bourbon king Ferdinand I was on the run and was defended by the British Royal Navy in Sicily. The choice of headwear lingered on long after the British left the island.
There are many reasons to visit Sicily but perhaps the two biggest draws for today’s visitors are the arts and the cuisine of the island. With so many cultures having made their lasting mark on the island, those with an interest in art history are spoilt for choice on where to explore their passion. Syracuse is perhaps the most well-known of sites and was the home of Archimedes in ancient Greek times. A theatre remains today where the ancient city once stood. Also home to an ancient theatre from Greco-Roman times is Taormina on the east of Sicily. Now a popular tourist resort Taormina was once a highly influential city and still mixes many old ruins within its modern beachfront centre that provide a clue to its past glories.
As for the food in Sicily, it’s perhaps a paradox to find a topic taken so seriously on an island where almost everything else is met with such an easy-going philosophy. The focus in Sicilian cuisine is on freshness and it’s not unusual to find restaurants that offer little in the way of a menu, with the chef buying from the market in the morning only those items that he considers the finest. Meals are never rushed here and it’s certainly a place where you leave the decisions to the professionals and just sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labours. There will be much more on Sicilian cuisine in a future post.
For more about our holidays to Sicily visit our main site.
by Andy Jarosz