History of Sicily

The largest and most beautiful island in the Mediterranean


Sicily has a history spanning many centuries and is full of remains, many of which are unknown even to Sicilians. The first settlements in Sicily date back to around 1500 BC with the immigration of the Sicans from North Africa. They settled near the Gela river. The Sicani were soon followed by the Siculi, who had come from the Strait of Messina. From them derives the current name of Sicily. The arrival of the Sicilians and their settlement along the east and south-east coast of the island. The settlements of the Sicani were solicited in the hinterland, north and north-west of the island.

During the same period, a third indigenous people, the Elimi, settled at the western end of Sicily. The cities of Erice and Segesta were occupied. In the southeastern part the Greeks founded (6th-13th century BC) cities such as Syracuse and Catania. So also Zancle (today Messina), Gela, and Selinus and occupied already existing cities such as Segesta. The Greek cities flourished and in turn founded other cities such as Acragas (now Agrigento) and Imera. Their democratic governments were gradually replaced by tyrannical governments. In particular, that of Falaride in Agrigento and of Gelone, Ierone I, and others in Syracuse.

Between 831 and 965 AD

Between 831 and 965 AD, Sicily was conquered by the Arabs, thanks to which it reached its heyday. Subsequent internal disagreements favored the conquest by the Normans, under whom the Kingdom of Sicily was established. Once under the Swabian rule, the Kingdom of Sicily was unified with the Empire of Frederick II, who, with the Constitutions of Melfi of 1231, created a well organized state.

When Frederick II died in 1250, his successor Manfredi was defeated and killed by the ruthless Charles of Anjou, whose French allies occupied the island and established their hegemony which led to the popular uprising called the Sicilian Vespers. Finally, in 1302, the French gave way to the Aragonese. The aristocracy that settled during this reign has left magnificent palaces scattered throughout Sicily, such as Palazzo Sclafani and Palazzo Chiaramonte in Palermo.

Ironically, the earthquake that devastated the southeastern provinces in 1693 became the launching pad for the most glorious period of Sicily, the Baroque. Cities such as Palermo, Catania, Syracuse, Ragusa, Noto, Comiso, Scicli and dozens of others, were entirely rebuilt and returned to their splendor. After the Aragonese, Sicily passed for a short period under the hands of the Austrians, only to be saved in 1734 by the Bourbons of Spain, whose throne was actually located in Naples. Sicily remained in the hands of the Bourbons until 1860, when the Kingdom of Italy took place following unification.

Heavily bombed during the Second World War, again shaken in 1968 by another earthquake, Sicily remains what it has always been: a spectacular land of impervious mountains, golden wheat fields and rocky coasts, inhabited by a fiercely independent people who put passion in everything he does.