Essential archaeological sites

On the trail of the Greek, Muslim, Roman, Phoenecian, Arab, Spanish and Norman invaders

Homer called it "Trinachìe" ("Trinacria") and indeed in the imaginary geography of the Odyssey, Sicily appears to be the most likely of Ulysses’ landing places. Approaching the east coast of Sicily, the early Greek colonisers, emigrants from Mycenae, Megara, Nisea and Corinth, discovered, out of harm's reach, a rich, virgin land full of promise. Instead of ogres they found friendly natives, the Siculi and the Sicani peoples who had been living on the island since time immemorial. They found Hybla, standing on the edge of the gorge of Pantalica, and on the west coast they fought against the flourishing Phoenician towns of Mozia, Panormus (Palermo) and Solunto. The Greeks wrote the first chapter of the great history of Sicily. They dragged the primitive Chthonic gods from their dark caverns and started to worship them in open air temples. The Greeks founded many large and powerful towns such as Megara Hyblea, Leontinoi, Akrai, Syracuse, Gela, Taormina and, facing the African sea, Agrigento, Segesta and Selinunte. When the Romans invaded they used the fertile island rich in woods, animals and minerals as their ideal colony, wood and grain store, animal reserve and source of metals and minerals. Large land owners, such as Proculo Populonio, built luxurious mansions like the one at Piazza Armerina. The island served as a bridge between Africa and the western world, bringing to Rome riches of all kinds. The Romans built roads, introduced new laws, taught a new language and introduced new customs, however, as the rapacious Verre people did before them, they plundered the whole island. After the end of Roman domination, Sicily subsequently fell prey to the Vandals and Ostrogoths who completed the process of sacking and destruction. Thus the island became a shelter for the exiled, for monks and for hermits banished by the Longobards and a land where churches and convents were built and conflict raged between the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Pope in Rome. Taking advantage of Byzantine weakness, the Saracens invaded the island under the impetus of holy war. The Arab dominion, following the Greek one, was a second renaissance period for Sicily. Under each of the new Arab, North African and Spanish dominions, agriculture, fishing, crafts, commerce and arts flourished and each new dominion professed its own religion and language. All subsequent dominations, including the Norman, Swabian, Spanish, Aragon and Castilian dominations, were unable to erase completely the deep imprints left by the Moslem civilization. Sicily is a rich and vast palimpsest, a melting pot of races, languages, religions, historical and artistical riches. The beauty and fascination of its monuments prompted many travellers to visit the island in the 18th and 19th century. Goethe was the most famous visitor of all and wrote: "Sicily reminds me of Africa and Asia; to find oneself standing in the centre, where the rays of universal history converge, is marvellous; it is truly a remarkable experience". Sicilian writers such as Verga, Pirandello, Lampedusa and Sciascia have always been tormented by the decoding of the existential and historical enigma represented by their own land. So much beauty and art located together on one island. Art that has flourished from ancient times until yesterday, the age of the Florios and the Art Nouveau architecture of Basile and Damiani Almeyda. A heritage often desecrated by today’s barbarians, by cement and by factories but, as in the past, fortunately nobody will succeed in destroying it completely.