During the 6th and 5th centuries BC, there cannot have been much difference between Athens and the Greek cities of Sicily. Their ruins are among the most spectacular of the ancient Greek world. The Romans took over in the 3rd century BC, followed by Vandals, Ostrogoths, and Byzantines. Not much that is tangible has survived from the days of the Arabs, who ruled from the 9th to 11th centuries, though Palermo's Vucciria is more souk than market. The Norman era, beginning in 1061, spawned brilliant artistic achievements, such as the cathedrals of Monreale and Cefalu, while the eclecticism of that period's architecture is best seen at Santi Pietro e Paolo outside Taormina.
The Sicilian Baroque of the 17th and 18th centuries is just as individual. The palaces and churches of Palermo, reflecting the elaborate ritual of the Spanish Viceregal court, tend towards extravagant display. At Noto, Ragusa, Modica, Siracusa, and Catania the buildings are a useful vehicle for the Sicilians' love of ornamentation, itself a remnant from the island's early fling with the Arab world. The style is an expression of the nature of Sicilians, whose sense of pomp and pageantry is both magnificent and extreme.
Sicily is a curiosity, and the legacy of the past is redolent everywhere.
The fact that it is an island has intensified the cultural impact of each successive occupier. They say that today there's less Italian blood in Sicilian veins than there is Phoenician, Greek, Arabic, Norman, Spanish, or French.
The resulting mixture - exotic, spicy and highly inflammable - has created a separate nation at the foot of Italy.
The vast coastline of Sicily (Sicilia) provides many magnificent beaches, particularly at Taormina and the Golfo di Castellammare by San Vito Lo Capo - part of a large nature reserve. Sicily's varied interior is characterized by remote hill towns and plains punctuated by mountain ranges known for spring flowers and wildlife. Among the most spectacular sights is Mount Etna, an active volcano whose lava flows over the centuries have left the land immensely fertile, supporting an abundance of walnut trees, citrus groves, and vineyards.
SIGHTS AT A GLANCE
» Mount Etna Noto
» Piazza Armerina
The A19-E932 links Palermo and Catania, the A18-E45 Catania and Messina, and the A20-E90 Palermo and Messina. The west is accessible from Palermo on the A29-E90.
Ferry routes run from Messina to Reggio di Calabria, and from Palermo to Genoa or Naples. Between the larger towns, train services are efficient, but for smaller towns the buses are better. Catania, Palermo, and Trapani have international airports.