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Sicily, the largest of the Mediterranean islands, lies between southern Italy and North Africa. Hostels in Sicily The island can be seen as a "stepping stone" between Europe and Africa. Discount hotels Licata. A beautiful, mountainous island, Sicily has been occupied by a series of migrants and invaders. These include the Greeks, Cathaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Angevins and Spaniards. In 1861 Sicily became part of Italy when Garibaldi united the Kingdom of Italy and the island. Discount hotels Licata Eighty-five years later Sicily achieved "relative independence". This means that although Sicily belongs to Italy it is responsible for much of its own local affairs. Discount hotels Licata. The island is divided into nine provinces: Agrigento, Caltanissetta, Catania, Enna, Messina, Palermo, Ragusa, Siracusa and Trapani. Car Hire Ustica Throughout history islands have been invaded by foreign powers. Tourist Information office centre Messina However, Sicily's rugged terrain has provided its people with a degree of protection as many of its towns and villages are high in the mountains. Discount hotels Licata

Palermo was founded by Phoenicians who sailed there from their native Carthage. Panarea Tours and Excursions The Greeks colonized the whole island, leaving some of the most beautiful and best-preserved temples they ever built at Agrigento, Selinunte and Segesta. Discount hotels Licata. Around those glorious sites they planted Sicily's first olive trees and grape vines. Hostels in Sant Agata Militello Traces of the Roman period in Sicily can be found in the amphitheatres at Taormina and Siracusa, as well as in that city's Christian catacombs. But perhaps Rome's most lasting (and infamous) contribution to the island came in fostering the great land ownerships which eventually impoverished the peasantry and led, many centuries later, to the founding of secret societies aimed at destroying the fabulously wealthy landlords. Discount hotels Licata. In Palermo, these groups were known as mafia. Diving Centres Dive Sites and Schools Panarea  

Mt Etna, the largest volcano in Europe and one of the most active in the world, lies south of Taormina. Tourist Information office centre Messina You are permitted to climb up to 2900m. Discount hotels Licata. A rope marks the spot where the volcano’s unpredictability makes it unsafe to go any further. Further south, the town of Syracuse was once a very powerful Greek city. Trapani Holiday Accommodation Check out the medieval buildings on the island of Ortigia which lies in the centre of town. Don’t miss the 5th century Teatro Greco – a masterpiece hewn out of rock with a seating capacity for 16,000 people. Cheap guesthouses Nebrodi The five Doric temples in the town of Agrigento are also well worth a visit. They are the most well preserved of Sicily’s Greek ruins and are truly spectacular.

As elsewhere in the Roman Empire, the Romans were replaced by the Vandals and the Ostrogoths, who demolished far more than they built (one rare example is the villa of Piazza Armerina) and were swept away by the Byzantines. Agritourism in Enna The Arabs who followed them moved the capitol from Siracusa to Palermo, renamed most of the existing towns, and planted the first carobs, date-palms, citrus trees, jasmines and melons. Discount hotels Licata. The Normans took over in 1061. Discount hotels Licata They tore down almost all signs of Arab culture. Sant Agata Militello villas They brought the island to a new level of prosperity and planted a different kind of seed, still visible today in the blonde and red tresses of many Sicilians. Discount hotels Licata. It is to the Normans that we owe the most spectacular of Sicily's architectural treasures. Cheap guesthouses Sciacca From the cathedrals of Cefalů, Messina and Monreale to Palermo's Zisa and Cuba, the churches of San Giovanni degli Eremiti, San Cataldo and the Martorana. Under the realm of Frederick II, the Swabian king, Sicily became one of the centers of the Western world, and perhaps it is not surprising that the principal architectural endeavors of this era. These lasted only from 1220 to 1250, were of a military nature, such as the castles in Siracusa, Catania and Salemi. Discount hotels Licata. When Frederick died in 1250, his successor Manfred was murdered by the ruthless Charles of Anjou, whose French allies streamed into the island and established a new aristocracy so despised that it led to the popular uprising called the Sicilian Vespers. Farmhouses in Agrigento Eventually, in 1302, the French gave way to the Aragonese (part of the same dynasty which sponsored Christopher Columbus), who dominated until 1734. Discount hotels Licata. The aristocracy created during this realm left their magnificent homes, such as Palermo's Palazzo Sclafani and Palazzo Chiaramonte, scattered all over the island. Car Hire Acireale The Aragonese clergy, while wielding the heavy arm of the Inquisition, effectively conspired to keep almost all artistic traces of the Renaissance out of the island.

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