Armchair Travel – Sicily

the view of the imposing Palermo cathedral.

I don’t envy God’s paradise, because I’m well satisfied to live in Sicily. 

Frederick II, King of Sicily
Up on Mount Etna

Before I start this post, I’d like to give you a bit of a background on my connection with the biggest island in the Mediterranean. Don’t worry, this won’t be like when you’re looking for a recipe and you get a whole life story and inspiration behind the said recipe before you even see the ingredients.

Back in 2012, I spent six months in Catania as an Erasmus student. In those six month I kinda fell in love with the place, its history and rich cultural heritage. I won’t even start on the food! I am sorry if I start waffling on a bit in this post, I’ll try and keep it to a minimum.

The photos are all from my small Sony camera I was using back then; the husband bought me my first DSLR that same summer, after I moved back home. Back then I knew nothing about composition or any other rules of photography either. Please don’t be too harsh 😀

Interesting facts about Siciliy

Sicily is home to the largest opera house in Italy and the third largest in Europe! It is in Palermo and was built in 1897. It also features in the famous scene in The Godfather III. Do you know which scene I’m talking about?

On the subject of Godfather, the scenes of lives in Sicily were not filmed in Corleone, which is a small town in the centre of Sicily, but in scenic Taormina (photos later on in the post).

Palermo is one of the five cities Forbes Magazine deemed as having the tastiest and most varied street food. You need to try as much food as you can! Arancini (if in Catania, arancine if in Palermo), cannoli, granita and brioche breakfast, pasta made in hundreds of different ways, pannelle, pani câ meusa or panino con la milza (typical for Palermo, best one is at Ninu u Ballerinu) etc.

Sicily is surrounded by three seas. Depending on what part of Sicily you are visiting, you can see the Ionian, Tyrrhenian, or Mediterranean Sea.

The island is separated from the mainland (region of Calabria) by just 1.5 miles of water called the Strait of Messina. It is famous for its abundant wildlife.

Over four-fifths of the land in Sicily is hills and mountainous. Much of the countryside has been cultivated over time for its incredibly fertile grounds (volcanic soil). The island is considered the granary of Italy, it was its “title” throughout history.

On the subject of history, Sicily was once its own independent state but it has also been ruled by many of Europe’s most famous empires including the Ancient Greeks, the Byzantines, the Romans, the Arabs, and the Normans, just to name a few. If you travel across the island, you will see how different cultures influenced the architecture. The difference between just Catania and Palermo are visible even to the “untrained” eye.

The cathedral in Palermo,

The sonnet first originated in Sicily in 13th century. It was invented by a poet from the Sicilian school of poetry, Giacomo da Lentini. Apparently a lot of people think William Shakespeare is the king of sonnets, but they obviously never heard of Francesco Petrarca (not Sicilian) ❤

The Sicilian language is still widely spoken on the island. It is not a derivative of Italian, it’s not a dialect. It is a distinct language with Greek, Arabic, Catalan, and Spanish influences. If you step off the beaten path in Sicily and start heading into smaller towns less populated by tourists, you’ll even see it written on menus and signs!

Catania at night – view from my window.

Some of the best-preserved Greek ruins outside of Greece are in Sicily, like Valle dei Templi near Agrigento or Selinunte near Sciacca.

Apart from unique archaeological sites, the western end of the island holds astonishing beaches and sensational nature, like the Zingaro Reserve.

This photo does not do justice do the gorgeous Zingaro Reserve!

Mount Etna is the tallest active volcano in Europe. It is very active, it was throwing ashes and smoke and even spat out some lava a few times during those six months in 2012.

The famous Greek mathematician Archimedes was born in Sicily, in Syracuse around 287 BCE. On that note, Syracuse and the island of Ortigia are one of the largest archaeological areas in the Mediterranean.

Economically, Sicily is one of the poorest regions in Italy. The official unemployment rate is twice that of the national average, hovering around 20%.

Monastero dei Benedittini – this is where the university I attended is located.

Over the centuries, there were a few big emigration waves and Sicily has seen huge shifts in population. It’s said that around 1.4 million Sicilians left the island in search of a better life between 1876 and 1915. Many of them ended up in the USA and formed the east coast Italian diaspora. Think Godfather and the story of how Vito Corleone became the Godfather. In the post-WW2 era, another 500,000 Sicilians are estimated to have left the island.

Speaking of Godfather, I found on other sites that it is an interesting that the mafia is not a Hollywood invention. Are there still people who think mafia is something seen only on films?

The Sicilian mafia is called Costa Nostra, Calabrian one is ‘Ndranghetta, the mafia from Puglia is Sacra Corona Unita and, lastly, the one from Naples (Napoli) is Camorra. Corleone’s small anti-Mafia museum recounts the terrifying history of Sicily’s Cosa Nostra crime syndicate, focusing on the brave efforts of the anti-Mafia campaigners and judges (Falcone and Borsellino) who spoke out against organised crime rather than succumbing to the Mafia-promoted culture of omertà (silence).

If you are interested in Italian cinematic representation of the mafia, check out these films: I cento passi (my favourite), La Siciliana ribelle, Gomorrah or Il Giorno della Civetta (film based on an eponymous book written by Leonardo Sciascia, a famous Sicilian author).

Lastly, another literature fact for you: one of the most famous Italian novels is set in 1860s Sicily at the time of the unification of Italy: The Leopard (Il Gattopardo), written by Giuseppe Tomasi Lampedusa.

A view down an ancient Greek street all the way to the sea.

Did you know any of these facts? Which one did you find most interesting?

Check out other Armchair Travel posts!

2 thoughts on “Armchair Travel – Sicily

  1. Wow, nice! Things about mafia are scary though. I would love to go to Sicilia.. still have that vulcanic rock you gave me ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awww, those little buggers are easy to break. We still have our one as well. Have no idea how to get the dust off it though


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