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History of Sicily

Due to its strategic position, Sicily has been inhabited since Palaeolithic and Mesolithic times as the traces found in the northern coast caves show. The earliest inhabitants were, as Thucydides said, the Sicanians, who came from Iberia (VIII-VII c. B.C.). The Elymi, perhaps Trojan exiles coming from Libia, settled in the neighbourhood of Erice and Segesta. The Siculians came from the Italian mainland and occupied the eastern area of the island. When the first Greek settlers arrived in 735 B.C., the Phoenician, who had settled in Western Sicily from Mozia to Capo Lilibeo, had to retreat. In 265 B.C. Romans took Messina, allying with the local mercenary soldiers. At the end of the Second Punic War (212 B.C.), the island was taken by the Romans who divided it into provinces and was regarded as land to be exploited to supply Rome with grain. At the end of the Gothic-Byzantine conflict in 552 A.C., Sicily became part of the Eastern Roman Empire and till the 9th century was a peripherical province. The Arab invasion and conquest of 827 endowed Sicily with its ancient splendour. The conquest started from Mazara del Vallo and finished in 902 with the fall of Taormina, while the Greek and Latin elements still prevailed in the east (the Noto and Demone Valleys). Palermo, conquered in 831, became the new flourishing capital of the semi-independent emirate of the Kalibi family. The Norman conquest of the island started in 1061, when Roger I of Hauteville was crowned King of Puglia, Calabria and Sicily. After Henry VI, Constance of Hauteville's husband, the young Frederick II succeeded to the throne. He was crowned by the Pope in 1212. Swabian rights to the throne were thus confirmed.

In 1266 Manfred, Frederick's heir, was defeated by Charles of Anjou so Sicily felt into a deep economic crisis again and the power of the barons was growing beyond measure (the Chiaramonte and Ventimiglia family laid down their law in the Western Sicily until 1500). In 1415 the island became a Spanish viceroyalty and was relegated to a very marginal position in the Mediterranean area. In spite of discontent and disturbances in the main towns, the Spanish domination remained as strong as ever until the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) that marked the close of Spanish rule and the consequent passing of Sicily to the House of Savoy. Pressed by the French, Ferdinand IV of Bourbon King of Naples, took refuge in Sicily, united the two States in a single Kingdom of the two Sicilies and abolished the feudal privileges in 1812. In 1848 the revolutionary movements started across the whole island and Sicilians, together with the temporary government of Ruggero Settimo, declared the Bourbons deposed. Giuseppe Garibaldi arrived in Marsala on 11 May 1860. He defeated the Bourbon's troop at Calatafimi but social tensions found an explosive outlet again in the Sicilian Fasci movement, repressed in 1894 by Francesco Crispi, then leader of the italian government. Due to a heavy crisis of the agricultural economy, the phenomenon of the massive migrations to the new World, America, took place in Sicily. In 1948 the statute of the autonomous region was promulgated by the italian government together with the institution of the autonomous parliament of the newborn Sicilian Region. The parliament had to face with the dramatic economic and social situations the day after the First World War. Today the island is a region with various potentials but not completely showed, from the economic point of view, as for example in the transport and Hitech sector. But there are some very well known, such as: tourism, monuments and agroalimentar sectors.

Chronological history of Sicily

Prehistory - 35.000-5.000 B.C. - Late Palaeo-lithic. The Sicilians lived on hunting and berries. Graffiti in grottoes on Monte Pellegrino and on Levanzo witness this period.
1900 - 1800 B.C. - Groups of Indo-European populations penetrated into Sicily, blending with the natives and starting the Bronze Age. Findings at Castelluccio, Naro, Filicudi, Syracuse and Pantalica.
1400 B.C. - Traces of the Aegean-Cretan civilisation. The Elimi, founders of Erice and Segesta, and the Siculi came to Sicily. The latter brought the use of the horse and of copper, taught agriculture and the cult of the dead.
1200 - 1000 B.C. - The Iron Age began. Findings at Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto, Monte Finocchitto (Noto), Sant'Angelo Muxaro. In the 11th to 10th centuries the Phoenicians came, founding Solunto, Motya and Palermo.
The Greeks - 753 B.C. - With the foundation of Naxos by Greek settlers, Sicily entered into the history of the Greek Mediterranean. During the following years many colonies flourished: Syracuse (734), Catania (729), Gela (689), Selinunte (650), Agrigento (582). The colonies developed and became true towns, rich and decorated with monuments.
485 B.C. - Gelon, tyrant of Gela, conquered Syracuse, which in the ensuing years became one of the main cities in the Mediterranean.
405 - 367B.C. - Dionysius I the Elder reached the apex of his power in Syracuse, getting himself elected tyrant of the town. Together with the King of Persia, he was the most magnificent ruler of his days, thanks to the splendour of his court and the power of his army, capable of routing the Carthaginians who fought against the Greeks for the dominion over Sicily.
316 - 289 B.C. - Agathocles, tyrant of Syracuse. After the death of Dionysius, was the first seigneur capable of competing with the power of his predecessor, keeping out the Carthaginians and taking Syracuse back to its former splendour. After his death, the town was in the hands of weak governors until the accession of Jeron II (276 B.C.), a mild, yet firm, king who made an alliance with Rome, a newborn Italic power. Vestiges of Greek Sicily in Syracuse, Agrigento, Selinunte, Segesta and Gela.
The Romans - 264 B.C. The Mamertines, an Italic population who had occupied Messina, feeling threatened by the Carthaginians, asked to the Romans to help them out. The Romans, supported in Sicily by Jeron II, started the first Punic War against Carthage. At the end of the war the whole of Sicily - except for the ally Syracuse - was proclaimed a Roman province (241 B.C.).
219 - 212 B.C. - Second Punic War. The Romans conquered and subjugated Syracuse too. Sicilian history under the Romans is not paricularly rich in events, except for the slaves revolts (135 and 101 B.C.).
The Barbarians - 440 A.C. - Genseric, king of the Vandals, landed in Lilybaeum (now Marsala) and devastated Sicily. After a series of occasional raids in the following years, in 468 he began a true dominion that lasted until 476. On the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Sicily was given to Odoacer, who in turn was to hand it over the government to the Visigoths of Theodoric.
The Byzantines - 535 - Greek-Gothic War. It was set going at the behest of Justinian, the eastern emperor, who wished to re-unify the empire. General Belisarius was sent to Sicily, he rapidly conquered the island, handing it over to the emperor. Sicily remained in the oriental orbit for almost three centuries, absorbing numerous social and cultural aspects of it. Monumental vestiges at Randazzo, Castelbuono and Pantalica.
The Arabs - 827 - The Arabs landed in Mazara, starting the campaign for the conquest of the island. This was to be completed in a hundred years and marked an important change for the social and cultural life of Sicily, which was hurtled into the Muslim world after centuries of Christianity. The Sicilian capital was Palermo, a splendid metropolis with an Islamic look. Monumental traces in Palermo, Favara, CefalÓ Diana, Caccamo.
The Normans - 1060 - Led by Robert the Guiscard and Roger de Hauteville, the Normans, with the papal blessing, began to reconquer Sicily for Christianity. It will take 31 years to reconquer it. The descendants of Roger de Hauteville were to be kings of Sicily until 1194, and to leave records of a prosperous and pacific kingdom, the melting pot of different peoples perfectly integrate. It was above all Roger Il, son of the previous Roger, that gave vital impulse to this kingdom, with a wise administration involving all the different races. The capital was still Palermo, a magnificent city adorned with palaces and gardens. Monumental traces in Palermo, Monreale, Cefal¨, Messina, Piazza Armerina, Caccamo, Troina, Calascibetta, Favara and other places.
The Hohenstaufens - 1194 - With the coronation of Henry Vl as king of Sicily, the throne went to the German family of the Hohenstaufens. On Henry's death the throne was to go to his son Frederick II (crowned in 1208), one of the greatest medieval monarchs. At his court in Palermo the arts, science and literature flourished, and indeed the first Italian poetic school was to come into being inside the walls of the Norman Palace. Monumental traces in Syracuse, Catania, Salemi and Agrigento.
The Angevins - 1270 - Frederick II's death started bitter struggles over the succession. The pope, who had long broken off with the Hohenstaufens, arbitrarily assigned the crown to Charles of Anjou and the latter's army, which had come to stake his claim, clashed with Frederick's direct heirs: his illegitimate son Manfred and his nephew Conrad. Having defeated both, Charles of Anjou acceded to the throne and, moving the capital to Naples, made an oppressive government, ill tolerated by the Sicilians. Monumental traces at Sperlinga.
The Aragonese - 1282 - Vespers Revolt. Starting in Palermo, this rebellion was to lead to the French being driven out of Sicily. The island's throne went to Pedro of Aragona, Manfred's son-in-law. Monumental traces in Palermo, Messina, Caltanissetta, Trapani, Agrigento, Taormina, Mussomeli, Aragona and Augusta.
The Spanish - 1409 - With the extinction of the Sicilian line of the Aragonese, direct relations between the island and the Spanish crown became closer. The marriage of Ferdinand of Aragona to Isabella of Castille laid the foundations for the birth of a Spanish state also comprising Sicily. The island was governed by viceroys and was to belong to the Spanish crown for about 300 years. Monumental traces in Taormina, Palermo, Syracuse, Enna, Nicolosi and on the Egadi Islands.
The Savoys and the Austrians - 1713 - As decided with the Peace of Utrecht, Sicily went to Vittorio Amedeo of Savoy. In 1718 the Spanish set out to re-conquer it, though they were stopped by the Austrians. By the Hague Treaty (1720) Charles VI of Austria became the new king of Sicily.
The Bourbons - 1734 - After the battle of Bitonto between the Bourbon and Austrian troops, Sicily moved back into the Spanish orbit. Charles I of Bourbon, the son of the king of Spain, was crowned king of Sicily in 1735. Monumental traces in Palermo, Noto, Avola, Ragusa, Modica, Catania, Syracuse and Trapani.
The kingdom of Italy - 1860 - After Garibaldi's exploits, Sicily was annexed to the kingdom of Italy. From then on the island was to share the fate of the new kingdom.
Autonomy - 1946 - At the end of World War II, Sicily became an autonomous region in the context of the new Italian Republic.