Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea; along with surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, and it is officially referred to as Regione Siciliana (Sicilian Region).
Sicily is located in the central Mediterranean. It extends from the tip of the Apennine peninsula, from which it is separated only by the narrow Strait of Messina, towards the North African coast. Its most prominent landmark isMount Etna, which, at 3,350 m (10,990 ft), is the tallest active volcano in Europe and one of the most active in the world. The island has a typical Mediterranean climate.
The earliest archeological evidence of human dwelling on the island dates from as early as 12000 BC. At around 750 BC, Sicily was host to a number of Phoenician and Greek colonies, and for the next 600 years, it was the site of the Greek–Punic and Roman–Punic wars, which ended with the Roman destruction of Carthage. After the fall of theRoman Empire in the 5th century AD, Sicily frequently changed hands, and during the early Middle Ages, it was ruled in turn by the Vandals, Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Arabs and Normans. Later on, the Kingdom of Sicily lasted between 1130 and 1816, first subordinated to the crowns of Aragon, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire, and then finally unified under the Bourbons with Naples, as the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Following the Expedition of the Thousand, a Giuseppe Garibaldi-led revolt during the Italian Unification process and a plebiscite, it became part of Italy in 1860. After the birth of the Italian Republic in 1946, Sicily was given special status as an autonomous region.
Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature, cuisine and architecture. It also holds importance for archeological and ancient sites such as the Necropolis of Pantalica, the Valley of the Temples and Selinunte.
Sicily has a roughly triangular shape, which earned it the name Trinacria. To the east, it is separated from the Italian region of Calabria by the Strait of Messina, about 3 km (1.9 mi) wide in the north, and about 16 km (9.9 mi) in the southern part. The northern and southern coasts are each about 280 kilometres (170 mi) long measured as a straight line, while the eastern coast measures around 180 kilometres (110 mi); total coast length is estimated at 1,484 km (922 mi). The total area of the island is 25,711 square kilometres (9,927 sq mi), while the Autonomous Region of Sicily (which includes smaller surrounding islands) has an area of 27,708 square kilometres (10,698 sq mi).
The terrain of inland Sicily is mostly hilly and intensively cultivated wherever it was possible. Along the northern coast, mountain ranges of Madonie, 2,000 m (6,600 ft), Nebrodi, 1,800 m (5,900 ft), and Peloritani, 1,300 m (4,300 ft), represent an extension of mainland Apennines. The cone of Mount Etna dominates over the eastern coast. In the south-east lie lower Hyblaean Mountains, 1,000 m (3,300 ft). The mines of the Enna andCaltanissetta districts were a leading sulfur-producing area throughout the 19th century, but have declined since the 1950s.
Sicily and its small surrounding islands have some highly active volcanoes. Mount Etnais the largest active volcano in Europe and still plagues the island with black ash with its ever current eruptions. It currently stands 3,329 metres (10,922 ft) high, though this varies with summit eruptions; the mountain is 21 m (69 ft) lower now than it was in 1981. It is the highest mountain in Italy south of the Alps. Etna covers an area of 1,190 km2(459 sq mi) with a basal circumference of 140 km (87 mi). This makes it by far the largest of the three active volcanoes in Italy, being about two and a half times the height of the next largest, Mount Vesuvius. In Greek Mythology, the deadly monster Typhon was trapped under this mountain by Zeus, the god of the sky, and Mount Etna is widely regarded as a cultural symbol and icon of Sicily.
The Aeolian Islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea, to the northeast of mainland Sicily exhibit a volcanic complex including Stromboli. Currently active also are the three volcanoes of Vulcano, Vulcanello and Lipari, usually dormant. 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 underwater Phlegraean Fields of the Strait of Sicily.
The autonomous region also includes several neighboring islands: the Aegadian Islands, the Aeolian Islands, Pantelleria and Lampedusa.
The hilly countryside around Caltanissetta, in central Sicily
Sicily is an often-quoted example of man-made deforestation, which was practiced since Roman times, when the island was made an agricultural region. This gradually dampened the climate, leading to decline of rainfall and drying of rivers. This is the reason why the central and southwest provinces are practically without any forests. In Northern Sicily, there are three important forests, near Mount Etna, in the Nebrodi Mountains and in the Bosco della Ficuzza's Natural Reserve nearPalermo. The Nebrodi Mountains Regional Park, established 4 August 1993, with its 86,000 hectares (210,000 acres) is the largest protected natural area of Sicily; here is the largest forest of Sicily, Caronia, which is also the second name of theNebrodi Mountains. The Hundred Horse Chestnut (Castagno dei Cento Cavalli), located on Linguaglossa road in Sant'Alfio, on the eastern slope of Mount Etna, is the largest and oldest known chestnut tree in the world, dated between 2000 and 4000 years.
Sicily has a good level of faunal biodiversity. Some of the species are Cirneco dell'Etna, fox, least weasel, pine marten, roe deer, wild boar, crested porcupine,hedgehog, common toad, Vipera aspis, golden eagle, peregrine falcon, hoopoe and black-winged stilt. In some cases, Sicily is a delimited point of a species range. For example, the subspecies of hooded crow (Corvus cornix) occurs in Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica, but no further south.
The Zingaro Natural Reserve is one of the best examples of unspoiled coastal wilderness in Sicily.
Sicily's sunny, dry climate, scenery, cuisine, history and architecture attract many tourists from mainland Italy and abroad. The tourist season peaks in the summer months, although people visit the island all year round. Mount Etna, the beaches, the archeological sites, and major cities such as Palermo, Catania, Syracuse and Ragusa are the favourite tourist destinations, but the old town of Taormina and the neighbouring seaside resort of Giardini Naxos draw visitors from all over the world, as do the Aeolian Islands, Erice, Cefalù, Agrigento, the Pelagie Islands and Capo d'Orlando. The last features some of the best-preserved temples of the ancient Greek period. Many Mediterranean cruise ships stop in Sicily, and many wine tourists also visit the island.
There are six UNESCO World Heritage Sites on Sicily. By the order of inscription:
Because many different cultures settled, dominated or invaded the island, Sicily has a huge variety of archeological sites. Also, some of the most notable and best preserved temples and other structures of the Greek world are located in Sicily.. Here is a short list of the major archeological sites:
The excavation and restoration of one of Sicily's best known archeological sites, the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, was at the direction of the archaeologistDomenico Antonio Lo Faso Pietrasanta, Fifth Duke of Serradifalco, known in archeological circles simply as "Serradifalco". He also oversaw the restoration of ancient sites at Segesta, Selinunte, Siracusa and Taormina.
Sicily has four universities: