Contrary to popular urban legends there is very little chance you will come face to face with the mafia when you visit Sicily.
Until World War II the mafia had operated almost exclusively in the countryside of Sicily. They were regarded as the most respectable bandits on the island with honour their most important trait. With the end of the conflict "Cosa Nostra" began its expansion into the cities taking over the construction industry.
Huge fortunes were made and money was then laundered into legitimate businesses. In 1953 a one off meeting between the representatives of the US underworld and Sicilian mafia resulted in the creation of the first Sicilian Commission.
This had representatives of the six main mafia families to efficiently run its expansion into the lucrative world of narcotics. Billions were made over the next 20 years. Inevitably this created a greed factor between the various families wanting a larger stake in the trade, and from the late 1960's onwards Sicily was awash with vicious feuds between families that left hundreds dead.
A gradual change in attitude both on the part of the Sicilian and of central government followed the shocking assassination of Generale della Chiesa, a tough chief of police gunned down in 1982 and the murders of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino both blown up in 1992.
Major crackdowns by authorities appeared to have more bite which meant Sicilians lost some of that old fear that always existed. Civilian efforts saw housewives hanging sheets with anti-mafia slogans from their windows.
Shopkeepers and small entrepreneurs formed associations to oppose extortions and most important of all, the sister of the murdered judge Paolo Borsellino Rita Borsellino formed a movement called Libera.Libera managed to get the Italian parliament to permit its member organisations to legally acquire properties seized from the mafia by the government. Establishing agricultural businesses and other legitimate enterprises.
In the last 15 years many heads of the top Mafia families have been arrested and convicted, but it would be foolish to suggest that the power of the mafia is a thing of the past. Despite occasional judicial success the Mafia's dismemberment remains highly unlikely largely because it has entwined itself into Italy's legitimate economy. Consequently the mafia has infiltrated daily lives. In varied business activities the mafia will have a hand in it, for example a legitimate business which secures a building contract but in turn the mafia will tell the business where to buy the cement or hire the machinery. This is part of everyday society in Sicily thus allowing the mafia to blend into ordinary lives.
A large number of Sicilian business owners still pay some kind of “pizzo” protection money.