Regional capital: Palermo
Provinces: Agrigento, Caltanisetta, Catania, Enna, Messina, Palermo, Ragusa, Siracusa, Trapani
Sicily (Italian and Sicilian: Sicilia, [siˈtʃilja]) is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and an autonomous region of Italy. Minor islands around it are also considered to be part of Sicily.
Throughout much of its history, Sicily has been considered a crucial strategic location due in large part to its importance for Mediterranean trade routes. The area was highly regarded as part of Magna Graecia, with Cicero describing Siracusa as the greatest and most beautiful city of all Ancient Greece.
The island was once a city-state in its own right, and as the Kingdom of Sicily ruled from Palermo over southern Italy, Sicily, and Malta. It later became a part of the Two Sicilies under the Bourbons, a kingdom governed from Naples that comprised both the island itself and most of southern Italy. The Italian unification of 1860 led to the dissolution of this kingdom, and Sicily became an autonomous part of the Kingdom of Italy. Sicily is today an autonomous region of Italy. Of all the regions of Italy, Sicily covers the largest land area at 25,708 square kilometres (9,926 sq mi) and currently has just over five million inhabitants.
Sicily has its own rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature, cuisine, architecture and language, having given birth to some of the greatest and most influential people in history. The Sicilian economy is largely based on agriculture (mainly orange and lemon orchards); this same rural countryside has attracted significant tourism in the modern age as its natural beauty is highly regarded. Sicily also holds importance for archeological and ancient sites such as the Necropolis of Pantalica and the Valley of the Temples.
The Sicilian economy and politics, however, are plagued by organized crime, the Sicilian Mafia—"Cosa Nostra"—being the oldest of Italian criminal societies. The overall income of criminal associations in Italy (including 'Ndrangheta and Camorra) was estimated to be € 63 billion annually, or 7% of the Italian economy.
Climate and Geography
Sicily has been known since ancient times for its roughly triangular shape, which earned it the name Trinacria. It is separated to the east from the Italian region of Calabria through the Strait of Messina. The island is characterized by a densely mountainous landscape. The main mountain ranges are Madonie and Nebrodi in the north and Peloritani in the north-east, whereas the south-eastern Hyblaean are considered geologically as a continuation of the Italian Appennines. The mines of the Enna and Caltanissetta district were a leading sulfur-producing area throughout the 19th century, but have declined since the 1950s.
Sicily and its small surrounding islands are extremely interesting to volcanologists. Mount Etna, located in the east of mainland Sicily with a height of 3,320 m (10,890 ft) it is the tallest active volcano in Europe and one of the most active in the world.
The Aeolian Islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea, to the north-east of mainland Sicily, exhibit a volcanic complex including Stromboli currently active, also are the three dormant volcanoes of Vulcano, Vulcanello and Lipari. Off the Southern coast of Sicily, the underwater volcano of Ferdinandea, which is part of the larger Empedocles last erupted in 1831. It is located between the coast of Agrigento and the island of Pantelleria (which itself is a dormant volcano), on the Phlegraean Fields of the Strait of Sicily.
One of the first inhabited areas of Italy, Sicily was named after the ancient Siculians who introduced agriculture and animal husbandry in the 3rd millennium B.C. The Phoenicians came next; they founded a number of commercial centres and started intensive exploitation of the forests for construction of settlements and boats. Between the 8th and 3rd centuries B.C., the Greeks ruled the island. They sometimes referred to the Island as Trinacria, a reference to the region's triangular shape, and founded numerous colonies and developed commerce and agriculture.
The Romans were the next colonisers to inhabit and control the island, making Sicily the granary of the empire. They built new roads and re-enforced the already existing settlements and agricultural and commercial systems. From 827 A.D., repeated attacks by Arabic pirates prompted the fortification and enlargement of the port of Palermo. The spread of irrigation, introduction of jasmine, citrus, cotton and other new cultivated crops contributed to an overall increase in agricultural production.
The Normans inhabited Sicily next, and later the Germans, continuing the improvements to the island, but under the subsequent Angevin, Aragon and Spanish domination, the trend was reversed. Sicily, in the end, became a Spanish colony and agriculture floundered. In the 19th century, the criminal organisation known as the Mafia was born and, when Sicily became a part of the newly born Italian state in 1860, they took real territorial control of the island.
After World War II, the Italian government initiated a program of economic development for Sicily. Large estates were divided into smaller units and coastal areas were reclaimed and transformed into cultivable fields. In more recent years, new industry in the cities, the construction of new roads and railways, and the development of the tourist industry has helped to improve the overall quality of life on the island.
The Sicilian people have a high level of awareness of their ancient and mediaeval past, and many of them study Latin and Greek at school. The islanders are quite aware of their unique heritage, and increased efforts are being made to preserve and to celebrate their artistic and cultural heritage.
Contrasts are not the least of those things in which Sicily abounds. So perhaps it is not surprising that this ancient island boasts one of Italy's most modern wine industries of that a region noted chiefly in the past for strong and often sweet amber Marsala and Moscato has rapicly switched the emphasis toward lighter, dryer wines - whites and reds.
Sicily, the largest Mediterranean island, has more vineyards for wine than any other region. Production in recent years has reached awesome levels - frequently the greatest in volume among the regions. The westernmost province of Trapani alone turns out more wine than the entire regions of Tuscany or Piedmont or such wine nations as Hungary, Austria or Chile. But the proportion of DOC wine in Sicily's total is a mere 2.5 per cent and a major share of that is Marsala, which with some 22 million litres a year ranks among Italy's top ten DOCs in volume.
Marsala, which was devised by English merchant traders nearly two centuries ago, has remained Sicily's proudest wine despite decades of degradation when it was flavoured with various syrups and sweeteners. Recently it has enjoyed a comeback with connoisseurs, who favour the dry Marsala Vergine and Superiore Riserva with their warmly complex flavours that rank them with the finest fortified wines of Europe.
The only other DOC wine made in significant quantity in Sicily (about 2.5 million litres a year) is the pale white, bone dry Bianco d'Alcamo. Moscato di Pantelleria, from the remote isle off the coast of Tunisia, is among the richest and most esteemed of Italian sweet wines in the Naturale and Passito Extra versions. Malvasia delle Lipari, from the volcanic Aeolian isles,is a dessert wine as exquisite as it is rare.
The dry white and red wines of Etna, whose vines are draped over the lower slopes of the volcano, can show notable class, as can the pale red but potent Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Production of the others DOCs - the dry, red Faro and the sweet Moscatos of Noto and Siracusa - has been virtually nonexistent in recent times.
By contrast, a number of unclassivied "vini da tavola" are thriving. Increasingly prominent are the pale, faintly scented, delicately fruity whites which derive largely from native grapes such as Inzolia, Catarratto, Grecanico and Verdello. Such outsiders as Sauvignon and Chardonnay have also proved promising. Certain reds have achieved prominence, too, mainly those from such admired native varieties as Nero d'Avola (or Calabrese) and Nerello Mascalese and Perricone (or Pignatello).
The most admired brands in Sicilian tables wines - Corvo-Duca di Salaparuta and Regaleali - do not qualify under any DOC. Yet Corvo's consistent quality in dry whites and reds from grapes selected throughout the island has made them prizewinners at home and abroad. Regaleali from the Tasca d'Almerita family estate high in the island's central hills, has been producing white, rose' and reds that have won international acclaim.
The Region of Sicily distinguishes wines of consistent quality - whether DOC or not - with a Q, which appears on labels as a seal of approval.
Sicilian wine has not enjoyed universal success, however. In an era of dwindling consumption world-wide, much of the island's production is either shipped away as blending wine or designated for distillation into industrial alcohol.
The region's wine production - four-fifths of which is centred in cooperatives - has been gradually reduced as new emphasis has been given to premium quality. New methods of viticulture in the sunny, temperate hills are helping to realise wines of real character and individuality. Sicily has taken the lead in winemaking in the modern south as producers seem increasingly determined to live up to the promise that was so well known to the ancient Greeks.
- Cerasuolo di Vittoria
- Contea di Sclafani
- Contessa Entellina
- Delia Novolelli
- Malvasia delle Lipari
- Mamertino di Milazzo
- Moscato di Noto Naturale or Moscato di Noto
- Moscato di Pantelleria Naturale or Moscato di Pantelleria
- Moscato di Passito di Pantelleria or Passito di Pantelleria
- Moscato di Siracusa
- Sambuca di Sicilia
- Santa Margherita del Belice
- Colli Ericini
- Fontanarossa di Cerda
- Valle Belice
Grapes and wines
Sicily has more vineyards than any of the other Italian regions competing with Apulia for first place as the largest wine producer. Yet, Sicilians consume less wine per capita than any other Italian.
Many grapes are made into raisins, used in local cooking, and Sicilian grapes also play a large role in creating dessert wines, which require a higher concentration of grapes and are consumed in smaller quantities. In fact, in the world of international wine, Sicily is renowned for the many outstanding dessert wines, such as the world-famous Marsala.
Though dessert wines account for about 90% of the total DOC production, we shouldn't disregard the several good reds and whites that are produced all over the island by both large producers such as the Conte di Salaparuta, which makes the well-known Corvo, Regaleali and Rapitalà, and the smaller estates such as Donnafugata, Consorzio Agrario Provinciale di Trapani, and Fontanarossa among others.
If you happen to travel to the island around November 11, the day dedicated by the catholic church to Saint Martin, look for signs announcing the local Festa del Vino or "Festival of the Wine". It is believed that on this date the new wine is ready for consumption, hence the saying: Il giorno di San Martino il mosto diventa vino or "On Saint Martin's Day the grape juice becomes wine".