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History

As early as 1250bc Sicily was shared by three different groups: The Sikans of Iberian origin, The Elymians of eastern Mediterranean origin and The Sikels from Italy mainland and from who Sicily took its name.
Sicily's early history began gloriously with centuries of Greek domination and flowered again under Arab and Norman dominion.

However for almost 1000 years the island suffered grievously at the hands of the less cultured and more rapacious foreign rulers, due to its strategic point in the Mediterranean on a route where East meets West, Sicily was often successfully invaded. In 200BC after plenty of bloodshed a new powerhouse of the empire emerged. The Romans besieged and captured Sicily.

History

This was the first capture for the Romans and the most significant due to the fertility of its land and the taxes and tributes gained. Such was the rapacity with which Rome exploited Sicily that when the Byzantine’s power outlived the Romans they found little of value.

The Byzantines foothold lasted some 300 years and during the seventh century Sicily was once again invaded by the Saracens who effectively made Sicily flourish again. They created lush gardens, mosques and palaces but most importantly created irrigation methods throughout the island for their booming agriculture which is still in use today.

The Saracens rule like so many others was short lived. As you may notice not all Sicilians are short with dark skin and dark hair but are also tall, blond and blue eyed. This is thanks to the Normans in the eleventh century they came they saw and they conquered. During their reign masterpieces were created like the cathedral of Cefalu, and the main chapel in Palermo.

The leader Count Roger Hauteville was also responsible for the first meeting of dignitaries that would eventually become the first known parliament in Europe. The Normans ruled for less than a century but left a social and cultural legacy. Henry VI was declared king of Sicily in 1194 but died in 1197 with the throne passing to his heir aged 3, King Frederick grew up to be a strong yet wise king promoting science, medicine and law which earned him the status of holy emperor, this put Palermo on the map which became the most important city in Europe a cultural city without equal in the western world.
Sicily entered a period of decline after the death of King Frederick, the pope handed power to Charles of Anjou the ruthless brother of the French king Louis IX who set about concluding cruel attacks on all Sicilians who were loyal to their previous king.
It took 40 years of bloodshed before the Sicilians with the help of the Vespers finally send the French. Spain was tightening its grip on the island, in fact it was another 500 years before the Spaniard s would leave the island.

As the Spanish empire faded Sicily likewise declined, the rule of corruption enhanced this, bands of outlaws protested against powers, they butchered livestock, set fire to crops and slaughtered local sheriffs and bailiffs protesting against vast estates and inhumane working conditions for peasants. This paved the way for the most notorious criminal organisation in the world to be created, The Mafia.

In the 17th century Sicily was struck by natural disaster Mount Etna erupted causing massive damage and totally destroyed Catania and killed about 5% of Sicily’s population. Politically the island had become an insignificant pawn among the powers of Europe passing hands between the Savoyards and the Austrians in exchange for the island of Sardinia. Napoleon Bonaparte did not invade Sicily but after invading Naples the Bourbons were forced out and sought refuge in Sicily were they found protection from the British troops. After defeating Napoleon the British troops left leaving the Bourbons to rule and suppress Sicily and its people by 1860, the name Garibaldi became the buzzword across the island. Giuseppe Garibaldi decided that the time was right to intervene, with his 1000 strong famous red shirt soldiers he arrived at Marsala and it took him the next 3 months to rid Sicily of the Bourbons who had had a 600 year chokehold on Sicily. Garibaldi then pushed for unification with Italy, a referendum was held and it was agreed that Sicily would unify with Italy which put the Island back to square one, as Italy at this time was controlled by the Savoy’s. The aristocracy remained firmly in charge of the economy while the peasants got nothing, not even the right to vote. The Mafia became agents for the aristocrats extracting large rents and taxes from the poor which pushed 500,00 Sicilians to emigrate to Australia and America most of these people came from the Messina area which was devastated by an earthquake in 1908. Killing 80,000 people.

The twentieth century bought even more misery to the island with the Italian conquest of Libya and the first world war which devastated the economy in Sicily and killing many young Sicilian men in the process. The aftermath of world war I saw the emergence of Benito Mussolini who had gained power in Rome and in turn declared war on the Sicilian mafia which simply drove all the criminals into hiding. In 1943 Sicily was caught up in a new war World war II. The Americans and the British army landed and pushed through the island making the Nazis retreat, they were in fact assisted by the mafia men who had gone into hiding who were eager to rid Sicily of the Fascists who had tried to wipe them out.

With the II world war behind them Sicilians reviewed their links with Italy, in 1946 who agreed to give Sicily limited independence. This autonomy allowed Sicily to have its own assembly and president, the role is similar to what Scotland enjoys with England. Today Sicily remains a great enigma, an island of incomparable beauty and cultural wealth. Yet it is a world separated from mainstream European life by a tumultuous history that has left a troubled present. Even though todays Sicily is better off than at any other time in history, it still has enormous economic, social and political hurdles to overcome.