Incredible Sicily

Sicily is a place of legend and myth. Its culture is exceptionally multi-layered and reflects some 2700 years of history.

As we mentioned in our article on Split, Croatia, the city of Syracuse was founded by Greek colonists from Corinth around the year 734/733 BCE. The island quickly became largely Greek, with Phoenicians remaining at the far Western end—Palermo was founded at the same time as Syracuse, but by Phoenicians from Carthage.

It is around this time that the Iliad and Odyssey were composed—it is in fact near the city of Catania that Odysseus and his men encountered the cyclops, and numerous other events from Greek mythology are said to have occurred on the island.

Thereafter, Sicily would fall to the Romans, the Vandals, the Ostrogoths, be regained by the Byzantines, then fall to Muslim Arabs (Aghlabids, Fatimids and Kalbids) who created the Emirate of Sicily. The Emirate would fall to Norman conquerors who eventually created the Kingdom of Sicily.

Sicily would then be ruled by a succession of dynasties and would eventually be ruled by Spain, briefly by the Houses of Savoy and Austria, then by the Spanish Bourbon dynasty until Italian Unification in 1860/61. The food, architecture, art, language and customs of this land reflect the richness of that complex and cosmopolitan past.

“Incredibile è l’Italia: e bisogna andare in Sicilia per constatare quanto è incredibile l’Italia”—
“Italy is incredible: one needs to go to Sicily to see just how incredible Italy is.”

Leonardo Sciascia, The Day of the Owl

In 1878 Syracuse inaugurated the Piazza Archimede, named after its undeniably most celebrated citizen. Archimedes was born here c. 287 BCE and was killed in the siege of Syracuse around 212 BCE.

In the centre of the square stands the Fountain of Diana (Artemis) which depicts a scene from Greek mythology. The nymph Arethusa, fleeing the advances of the river god Alpheus in mainland Greece, prayed Artemis for help. The goddess opened a hole in the ground allowing her to escape by the sea. She reemerged as a fountain on the island of Ortigia (Syracuse). The freshwater spring is one of only three bodies of water in Europe where papyrus grows. The other two are also in Sicily. Photo © Douglas Arthur Pierce.

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