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Sicily Cruises

About Sicily

Though Mt. Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano, may be Sicily’s most dramatic site, the island has also been home to epic struggles, fascinating cultures, and the rise and fall of societies—all of which still loom large in Sicily’s everyday life. Roman and Greek ruins dot the landscape. Medieval villages of stone perch atop hills. Old salt routes recall the trade cultures of centuries past. And impressive Norman architecture, echoes of the Viking cultures that settled in France and migrated to these shores, graces historic cities.

Long a crossroads of civilization for its location in the middle of the Mediterranean, Sicily has been shaped by an astonishing number of cultures: Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Ostrogoths and Byzantines all ruled the island in part or in whole over its first 2,000 years. It wasn’t until the 12th century that the Normans—descendants of Vikings—arrived and created the Kingdom of Sicily, which at the time also encompassed much of southern Italy, Malta and parts of North Africa. Palermo was its capital and grew into a major cultural center. Soon, the kingdom was one of the wealthiest and most powerful in Europe.

Over the ensuing centuries, Sicily fell under German, French, Hapsburg and Spanish rule. The island was finally claimed by its native population in 1860 after the Expedition of the Thousand, a march across Sicily led by Giuseppe Garibaldi. Part of the historic Italian Unification, this campaign helped lay the foundations for the Italy that we know today. After much shifting of borders and alliances, Sicily became an autonomous region of Italy in the mid-20th century.

Sicily Lifestyle and Culture

Though often overlooked as a major contributor to Italian culture, Sicily is steeped in lush arts, stunning architecture, distinct cuisine and fine crafts. One of the great mathematicians of all time, Archimedes, hailed from ancient Syracuse. Sicilian baroque is heralded as one of the most fanciful architectural styles, most often seen in churches and palaces. Palermo’s Teatro Massimo is the largest opera house in Italy and the third largest in Europe. And Sicily’s terra-cotta ceramics are among the most celebrated in Europe.

The cuisine of Sicily is farm-based, producing such a variety of dishes and wines that the island is known to some as “God’s Kitchen.” Olive groves blanket the island, as do vineyards and citrus orchards. Fresh vegetables and handmade pastas are paired with the catch of the day pulled from the waters surrounding the island’s coast. Swordfish is a popular meal, as are tuna and sea bass. Normans introduced meat and poultry dishes to Sicily, and they remain common today. For dessert, the ubiquitous cannoli and gelato are perennial favorites.

Wines of Sicily are nurtured by the volcanic soils of Mt. Etna and date back to the ancient Greeks. Bold reds and dry whites are typically enjoyed with the evening meal, followed by a dessert wine such as Marsala, produced in its namesake Sicilian town. Limoncello, a lemon liqueur, is another favored drink.

Sicily Sights and Landmarks

One of Sicily’s most stunning legacies is the stone-fortified village of Erice, perched atop its namesake mountain. The journey up from Trapani—via cable car—provides magnificent island and coastal views. A stroll along its cobblestone lanes, past medieval walls and castles, is pure Sicilian magic.

The remarkable ruins of Sicily recall the days of ancient Greece. Selinunte is Europe’s largest archaeological site, 667 acres set between green hills and blue Mediterranean waters. Founded in 650 BC and later toppled by Carthage and earthquakes, it is a treasure trove of once-grand religious buildings and Doric architecture. The Greek wonder of Segesta, with its impressive temple and theater, was founded by the indigenous Elymian people, built upon by Greeks and later sacked by Vandals.

Messina, just two miles across the Strait of Messina from mainland Italy, boasts breathtaking architecture and grand piazzas. Its Norman Cathedral is home to one of the world’s largest astronomical clocks. For splendid views of Mt. Etna, journey to Taormina, a stunning cliff-top city whose Greco-Roman amphitheater is set against the azure waters of the Mediterranean.