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Sicily (sĭsˈĭlē), Ital. Sicilia, region (1991 pop. 4,966,386), 9,925 sq mi (25,706 sq km), S Italy, mainly situated on the island of Sicily, which is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea on the west and south, by the Ionian Sea on the east, and by the Tyrrhenian Sea on the north, and which is separated from the Italian mainland by the narrow Strait of Messina. The region also includes the Egadi Islands, the Lipari Islands, the Pelagie Islands (see Lampedusa), Pantelleria island, and Ustica island. Palermo is the capital of Sicily, which is divided into the provinces of Agrigento, Caltanisetta, Catania, Enna, Messina, Pallermo, Ragusa, Syracuse, and Trapani (named for their capitals).


The largest Mediterranean island, Sicily is triangular and formerly was sometimes called Trinacria [Gr.,=triangle]; capes Boeo (or Lilibeo), Passero, and Punta del Faro (or Peloro) are the vertices of the triangle. The island is almost entirely covered by hills and mountains (continuations of the Apennines); Mt. Etna (10,700 ft/3,261 m), in the east, is the highest point. The only wide valley is the fertile plain of Catania in the east, mostly located along the lower Simeto River. There are also narrow coastal strips in the south and west, and a small fertile plain (the Conca d'Oro) near Palermo in the northwest.


Sicily has long been noted for its fertile soil, pleasant climate, and natural beauty. It has a long, hot growing season, but summer droughts are frequent. Agriculture is the chief economic activity but has long been hampered by absentee ownership, primitive methods of cultivation, and inadequate irrigation. The establishment (1950) of the now-defunct Cassa per il Mezzogiorno (Southern Italy Development Fund) by the national government led to land ownership reforms, an increase in the amount of land available for cultivation, and the general development of the island's economy. The Mafia, which is still influential, has hindered governmental efforts to institute reforms in the region, and Sicily continues to have an extremely low per capita income and high unemployment, although many workers have “black,” or unreported, jobs.

The chief agricultural products are wheat, barley, corn, olives, citrus fruit, almonds, wine grapes, and cotton; cattle, mules, donkeys, and sheep are raised. There are important tuna and sardine fisheries. Sicily's manufactures include processed food, chemicals, refined petroleum, fertilizers, textiles, ships, leather goods, wine, and forest products. There are petroleum fields in the southeast, and natural gas and sulfur are also produced. Improvements in Sicily's road system have helped to promote industrial development. The chief ports of the island are Palermo, Catania, and Messina.


Sicily has had a varied and colorful history. The first known inhabitants of the island were the Elymi, Sicani, and Siculi. Phoenicians later settled on the west coast, notably at Panormus (now Palermo); Carthaginians founded Lilybaeum and Drepanum (now Trapani); and on the east and southeast coasts Greeks founded (8th–6th cent. B.C.) such cities as Syracuse, Catania, Zancle (now Messina), Gela, and Selinus and settled in older towns like Segesta. The Greek cities flourished and in turn founded such cities as Acragas (now Agrigento) and Himera. Their originally democratic governments were gradually replaced by tyrannies, particularly those of Phalaris at Acragas and of Gelon, Hiero I, and others at Syracuse.

In the 5th cent. B.C., Syracuse gained hegemony over the other cities. Phoenician influence was reinvigorated by Carthaginian expansion; although Hamilcar was repulsed at Himera in 480 B.C., later Carthaginian invaders gained control (by c.400 B.C.) of more than half of the island. Interlopers from mainland Greece seized the remainder, and Sicily became a battleground for rival empires. A century of antagonism between Greeks and Carthaginians was followed by strife between Romans and Carthaginians, which flared (264 B.C.) in the first of the Punic Wars. Rome was victorious by 241 B.C., and after the death (c.215) of Hiero II of Syracuse, virtually all of Sicily came under Rome.

The Romans completed the enriching Hellenization of Sicilian culture. However, the resources of the island—known as the Breadbasket of Rome—were depleted by the Romans, who also founded the large estates (latifundia) that subsequently greatly hampered the economic development of Sicily. Roman rule was often corrupt, and corruption reached a peak under governor Caius Verres (73–71 B.C.). Slave revolts (135–132 B.C. and 104–100 B.C.) were cruelly suppressed. Many remains of the Greek and Roman periods have been found on Sicily, especially at Agrigento, Syracuse, Segesta, and Selinunte.

After the fall of Rome, Sicily passed from the Vandals (mid-5th cent. A.D.) to the Goths (493) and then to the Byzantines (535). The Arabs conquered the island in the 9th cent. after raiding it for two centuries. They promoted agriculture, commerce, and the arts and sciences. The Arabs were displaced by the Norman conquest of Sicily (1060–91), led by Roger I. Roger II became (1130) the first king of Sicily; he forced (1139) Pope Innocent II, who claimed suzerainty over Sicily, to invest him with the kingdom, which included the Norman holdings in S Italy. The brilliant court of Roger II did much to introduce Arabic learning to Western Europe. Roger's last direct descendant, Constance, married Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI; their son and heir, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, was more interested in the kingdom of Sicily (where he reigned as king from 1197 to 1250) than in the Holy Roman Empire.

After Frederick's death and the failures of the last Hohenstaufen claimants (Conrad IV, Manfred, and Conradin), Pope Clement IV crowned (1266) Charles I (Charles of Anjou) king of Naples and Sicily as his vassal. The unpopular French government brought on the Sicilian Vespers revolt (1282) and the Sicilians chose Peter III of Aragón as king. The resulting war between the Angevin line and the Aragonese ended temporarily in 1302, with Frederick II (see also Aragón, house of) becoming king of Sicily and Charles II of Anjou keeping S Italy (see Naples, kingdom of). In 1373, Joanna I of Naples formally renounced Sicily. After the Sicilian branch of Aragón became extinct, Sicily reverted (1409) to the main branch.

Under Aragonese rule local liberties were maintained, and the Sicilian national assembly enjoyed wide powers. With the accession of the Hapsburgs to the Spanish throne (early 16th cent.), there was more centralization, and Spanish governors arrived to tighten the imperial bonds. Corruption increased, and the island came under the control of a few powerful nobles and church officials.

In 1713 the Peace of Utrecht assigned Sicily to Savoy, which in 1720 exchanged it with Emperor Charles VI for Sardinia. However, as a result of the War of the Polish Succession, Sicily and Naples came under (1735) the rule of Don Carlos of Bourbon (later Charles III of Spain). The Bourbon kings resided at Naples, except in 1799 and from 1806 to 1815, when Naples was held by the French. The centralizing policies of the Bourbons were resisted by the Sicilian nobles, who welcomed British intervention (1811–14). Feudal privileges were renounced in 1812 but in practice continued much longer.

Naples and Sicily were merged, despite Sicilian protests, in 1816, when Ferdinand I styled himself officially king of the Two Sicilies. Revolts occurred in 1820 and 1848–49 and were mercilessly suppressed; the bombardments of Messina (1848) and Palermo (1849) earned Ferdinand II the nickname “King Bomba.” In 1860, Garibaldi conquered the island, which then voted to join the kingdom of Sardinia.

Even after Italian unification, Sicily was neglected by the central government, and the island's economic and social problems long remained unattended. In World War II a large-scale amphibious landing was carried out by the Allies on July 9–10, 1943. After heavy fighting, the Allied conquest was completed on Aug. 8, 1943. Sicily was given limited autonomy under the Italian constitution of 1947. The assassination of two prominent anti-Mafia prosecutors in 1992 prompted the central government to send in the military. The operation ended in 1998 after many organized crime figures were jailed.


See A History of Sicily: Vol. I by M. I. Finley (1968), Vol. II–III by D. M. Smith (1968).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea; part of Italy. Area, 25,460 sq km.

Sicily is located to the south of the Italian Peninsula and is separated from it by the Strait of Messina, whose minimum width is 3.5 km. The coasts are primarily steep and weakly indented; in the north they are eroded. The few convenient bays are situated principally on the northwestern and eastern coasts.

The topography of Sicily is mainly mountainous and hilly. Extending along the northern coast is a system of deeply dissected mountain ranges and individual massifs (the Peloritani, Nebrodi, and Madonie ranges). The mountains, a structural continuation of the mountains of the Italian Peninsula, are composed primarily of gneisses, schists, and phyllites. Flysch is important in the structure of the Nebrodi range, and limestones and dolomites in that of the Madonie range.

The central part of Sicily is occupied by low mountains and hills, composed of clays, shales, and marls. The karstic limestone Monti Iblei are in the southeast. Mount Etna (3,340 m), Europe’s highest active volcano, is located in the east. There are also a number of extinct volcanoes. On the eastern and western coastlines there are small alluvial plains. Earthquakes are frequent and have included one in Messina (1908) and one in western Sicily (1968). There are deposits of sulfur (Caltanisset-ta), petroleum (Gela), and natural gas.

The climate is subtropical and Mediterranean. On the coastal plains the mean January temperature is 11°-12°C, and the mean July temperature 27°-28°C, with a maximum of 45°C. In the mountains the respective averages are 4°-8°C and 20°-24°C. The summit of Etna is covered with snow for approximately nine months of the year. Annual precipitation on the plains amounts to 400–600 mm, and in the mountains 1,200–1,400 mm. Precipitation occurs primarily during the winter; in the summer there are droughts lasting three to five months, during which most of the rivers dry up. The most prevalent soils are reddish brown lateritic and terra rossa.

Sicily’s natural vegetation has been greatly altered by man’s influence. Mediterranean scrub vegetation predominates, with maquis in the north, garigue in the south, and steppe vegetation inland. Forests occupy less than 4 percent of the island’s territory. Up to elevations of 1,300–1,500 m they include holm oak, cork oak, chestnut, and hornbeam; beeches grow at higher elevations. At elevations exceeding 2,100 m on Mount Etna, pine forests give way to prickly scrub growth of barberry, juniper, and astragalus. Above 2,800 m, vegetation is almost nonexistent.


Galkina, T. A., and N. A. Sysoeva. Italiia. Moscow, 1972.
Gratsianskii, A. N. Priroda Sredizemnomor’ia. Moscow, 1971.
Le regioni d’ltalia, vol. 17. Turin, 1966.




an autonomous region of Italy that includes the island of Sicily and the adjacent Lipari, Egadi, and Pelagian islands and the island of Pantelleria. The region is divided into the provinces of Agrigento, Caltanissetta, Catania, Messina, Palermo, Ragusa, Syracuse (Siracusa), Trapani, and Enna. The capital is Palermo. Area, 25,700 sq km. Population, 4,680,700 (1971). As many as 30,000 persons leave Sicily ann ually; for example, 26,400 persons left in 1971.

Sicily is one of the least economically developed regions of Italy. Important industrial sites were built between the 1950’s and the 1970’s. In 1973, industry employed 30.6 percent of the work force (approximately one-third of this percentage were artisans); agriculture employed 27.2 percent.

Of the island’s total agricultural area, 57 percent is occupied by arable lands, 23 percent by orchards, vineyards, and olive groves, 11 percent by meadows, and 8 percent by forests. Fruits account for more than half of the commodity output (more than 1 million tons of oranges and about 300,000 tons of olives in 1973). Sicily is Italy’s principal lemon-growing region (approximately 700,000 tons). It produces 12 percent of Italy’s wheat, growing primarily hard varieties. Also cultivated are legumes, early potatoes, artichokes, and various truck-garden crops, especially tomatoes (446,900 tons in 1973), which are exported. Livestock population in 1973 amounted to 304,000 head of cattle, 689,000 sheep, 116,000 goats, 256,000 swine, and 127,000 horses, mules, and donkeys. In 1973,41,500 tons of fish were caught, as well as 11,600 tons of other types of seafood.

Traditional branches of industry include the mining of sulfur and building stone, the extraction of sea salt, the processing of citrus fruits, tomatoes, and olives, and wine-making. Other branches include lumbering, woodworking, garment manufacture, and shipbuilding (in Palermo and Messina). More recent branches of industry include the extraction of potassium salts, petroleum, and natural gas. Petroleum products are manufactured in Augusta, Priolo, Ragusa, Gela, and Milazzo; the largest centers of the chemical industry are in Priolo and Gela. There are also cement-manufacturing, electrical-equipment, and radio-electronics industries. Electric power production, primarily at steam power plants, exceeds 10 billion kilowatt-hours.

Sicily’s chief transportation junction is Palermo, a port whose freight turnover in 1972 was 2.2 million tons. Palermo is also a junction of air routes, railroads, and highways. Other ports are Augusta (36.3 million tons), Gela (7.7 million tons), and Milazzo (15.4 million tons). Most of the freight consists of petroleum and petroleum products. The Messina-Reggio di Calabria ferry crosses the Strait of Messina to link Sicily with the Italian peninsula.


The oldest inhabitants of the island of Sicily were the Sicani and Siculi. During the eighth century B.C., Sicily was colonized by the Phoenicians and Greeks. During the Peloponnesian War (431–404 B.C.), Athens attempted to capture Sicily but was defeated. Beginning in the fifth century B.C., Carthage attempted to conquer the island. An especially fierce struggle against Carthaginian expansion was waged during the reigns of the tyrants of Syracuse Dionysius I and Agathocles. The Carthaginians were finally expelled from the island by the Romans during the First Punic War (264–241 B.C.). In 241 B.C., the island of Sicily became the first Roman province and a granary for Rome; as a region of large slaveholding latifundia, the island became a site of major slave revolts.

During the early Middle Ages, Sicily was occupied by the Vandals (fifth century A.D.), Ostrogoths (sixth century), Byzantium (from 535), and Arabs (ninth century); in the 11th century it was conquered by the Normans. All these conquests, except the Byzantine conquest, helped weaken and destroy the slave-holding system and to strengthen feudalism.

Owing to its favorable geographical position, the island of Sicily underwent economic growth during the Crusades. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the island formed part of the Kingdom of Sicily. Between 1266 and 1268 the kingdom came under the rule of Charles I of Anjou. A popular uprising, the Sicilian Vespers, flared up against him in 1282; as a result, the Anjou dynasty lost the island of Sicily. Between 1282 and 1302 the kings of Aragon consolidated their power on the island.

In accordance with the Peace of Utrecht (1713), the island of Sicily was ceded to the duchy of Savoy; but by the London Treaty of 1718 (confirmed 1720) the island passed to Austria. From 1735 through 1860, Sicily was ruled by the Neapolitan Bourbons. During the period of Napoleon’s domination of Italy, the island of Sicily was the place of residence of the Neapolitan king Ferdinand IV (1799–1802 and 1806–14). In 1812 the king was compelled to grant a constitution (based on the British model), but he abrogated it in 1816.

During the 19th century, Sicily was one of the most important centers of the revolutionary movement in Italy and the setting of the bourgeois revolutions of 1820 and 1848. In 1860 a popular revolt in Sicily was supported by Garibaldi and his Thousand. As a result, the island was liberated from the Bourbons; in 1861 it was incorporated into the united Kingdom of Italy. In the late 19th century, large-scale uprisings of the agricultural proletariat and poor peasants took place in Sicily. During World War II (1939–45), Sicily served as a bridgehead for the Allied offensive in Italy.

To this day, the economy of Sicily retains a backward, agrarian character, aggravated by vestiges of feudalism. The existence in Sicily of the Mafia bandit organization is in large measure connected with the state of the island’s economy. In 1947, Sicily gained regional autonomy. After World War II, the peasants’, workers’, and general democratic movements intensified and the influence of the Communist Party grew.

Sicily was one of the most important centers of ancient Greek art. The most important ruins are the austere, majestic Doric temples at Agrigento (sixth-fifth centuries B.C.), Segesta (second half of the fifth century B.C.), and Selinunte (sixth-fifth centuries B.C.). Outstanding remains of ancient Roman art are the mosaics discovered in a Roman villa in Piazza Armerina (fourth century).

An indigenous school of Sicilian art took form in the 12th century, when Byzantine and native masters constructed buildings that combined Romanesque, Byzantine, and Moorish elements and that were decorated with mosaics. Examples are the cathedral in Cefalù (begun in 1131), the Palazzo Reale with the Cappella Palatina (11th-12th centuries) and the church of Mar-torana (1143) in Palermo, and the cathedral in Monreale (1174–89). Antonella da Messina worked in Sicily during the quattrocento.

Baroque architecture in Sicily was marked by dynamic opposition and often by fantasticality. Seventeenth-century examples include the buildings of G. Guarini in Messina; among those of the 18th century are numerous Jesuit churches. The 19th and 20th centuries witnessed the flourishing of many outstanding Sicilian masters, for example, the classical architects G. B. Basile and E. Basile. The development of Sicilian art of this period paralleled the development of the art of the Italian mainland.


Demus, O. The Mosaics of Norman Sicily. London [1949].
Bottari, S. La cultura figurativa in Sicilia. Messina-Florence [1954].
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


the largest island in the Mediterranean, separated from the tip of SW Italy by the Strait of Messina: administratively an autonomous region of Italy; settled by Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians before the Roman conquest of 241 bc; under Normans (12th--13th centuries); formed the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies with Naples in 1815; mountainous and volcanic. Capital: Palermo. Pop.: 4 972 124 (2003 est.). Area: 25 460 sq. km (9830 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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