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September 26, 2008


Empedocles (c. 490 BC – 430 BC), scientist and philosopher
Gorgias (c. 483 BC – 375 BC), philosopher
Timaeus (c. 345 BC – 250 BC), historian
Archimedes of Syracuse (c. 287 BC – 212 BC), scientist
Diodorus Siculus (c. 90 BC – 30 BC), historian
Pope Leo II, Pope from 682 to 683
Roger II of Sicily, King of Sicily 1130 – 1154
William I of Sicily, King of Sicily 1154 – 1166
William II of Sicily, King of Sicily 1166 – 1189
Frederick II (1194 – 1250), Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily (Frederick I of Sicily)
Cielo d'Alcamo (c. 1200 – 1250), poet
Giacomo da Lentini (1210 – 1260), poet
Guido Delle Colonne (1215 – 1290), poet
Antonello da Messina (1430 – 1479), painter
Antonello Gagini (1478 – 1536), sculptor
Francesco Maurolico (1494 – 1575), mathematician
Sigismondo D'India (1582 – 1629), composer
Pietro Novelli (1603 – 1647), painter
Giacomo Serpotta (1656 – 1732), sculptor
Alessandro Scarlatti (1660 – 1725), composer
Filippo Juvarra (1678 – 1736), architect
Giovanni Meli (1740 – 1815), poet
Vincenzo Bellini (1801 – 1835), opera composer
Francesco Crispi (1819 – 1901), politician
Emanuele Realmuto (1830 – 1857), Prince
Giovanni Verga (1840 – 1922), novelist
Giuseppe Sergi (1841 – 1936), anthropologist
Luigi Pirandello (1867 – 1936), dramatist, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature
Nino Martoglio (1870 – 1921), poet
Luigi Sturzo (1871 – 1959), politician
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (1896 – 1957), writer, poet
Julius Evola (1898 – 1974), political philosopher
Ignazio Buttitta (1899 – 1997), poet
Salvatore Quasimodo (1901 – 1968), poet, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature
Andrea Camilleri (born 1925), novelist
Nino Vaccarella (born 1933), race driver
Giovanni Falcone (1939 – 1992), judge
Paolo Borsellino (1940 – 1992), judge
Giuseppe Tornatore (born 1956), filmmaker
Anna Kanakis (born 1962), model, actress
Salvatore Schillaci (born 1964), football player
Franco Battiato (born) , singer
Maria Grazia Cucinotta (born 1969), actress


Imposing architectural remains of temples, theatres and aqueducts which still rise majestically on the sites of great ancient cities, as well as the large numbers of fine sculptures, decorative features of ancient buildings, pottery and precious items displayed in the main archaeological museums in Sicily of bear witness two centuries of Graeco-Sicel, Roman and Byzantine culture, making up one of the most remarkable archaeological treasures of old mankind. The temples of Segesta, Selinunte and Agrigento, the theatres of Taormina, Syracuse and Selinunte, the aqueducts of Termini and Agrigento, defensive works of Syracuse ( the Castle of Euryalus) the archaeological museums in Syracuse, Palermo, Trapani, Himera, etc, as well as the vast archaeological sites of ancient cities such us Agrigento, Heraclea Minoa, Himera, Segesta, Selinunte, etc, can to be easily summarized here. For brevity’s sake, we can say that Sicilian art of antiquity was characterized by presence of majestic architectural works in cities developed technical skills (particularly in the field of later –conveying systems), the magnificence of the Roman patrician villas, the refined statuary and the richness and realism of the great mosaic cycles. Old is features flourished again both under the Byzantines and in the Middle Ages when the rest of western Europe was still struggling to free itself from a semi-barbarian condition. Sicilian medieval art in the first decades of the Kingdom (from the end of the 11C trough 12C) was characterized by the fact that almost all the works were commissioned and financed by the Crow. Thanks to their prerogatives as “papal legates”, the members of the Hauteville dynasty were able to build the first great Latin cathedrals (Messina; Lipari; Cefalù; Monreale; Catania; Mazara; Agrigento; etc.).In these churches, the new Latin architectural spatiality imported from central Italy and northern Europe combined with the sumptuous decoration from the Maghreb, with the narrative schemes of Byzantine mosaics, and with Apulian Romanesque sculpture. Roger II built Cefalù Cathedral, where he wished to be buried. Later, he had his Royal Palace erected in Palermo, with his own Palace Chapel (the “Palatine Chapel”), the most magnificent example of Sicilian medieval art, built in 1132 and dedicated to St. Peter.The Royal Palace also housed the royal art and crafts workshop, where crowns, jewels, precious furnishings and ceremonial clothes were made. Some of these can still be admired today, such as the splendid Byzantine imperial crown (Kamelaukion) now displayed in the Cathedral Treasury. Roger II was succeeded by William I, who built the Zisa royal residence within the great royal park. His son, William II, built the Cuba and the majestic Monreale Cathedral, another jewel of royal art. The interior is richly decorated with splendid Byzantine mosaics, and the cloister is one of the most elegant expressions of medieval sculpture applied to architecture. In the meantime, the old Palermo Cathedral was partially demolished and reconstructed as a much larger building on the initiative of Bishop Gualtiero, who transformed it into the greatest cathedral of medieval Sicily. The age of Emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen was mainly characterized by the building of his castles, which represent a “unicum” in world history. The residential needs of the sovereign and defensive needs were combined and satisfied in construction of refined formal elegance: Castello Ursino (Catania); Castello Maniace (Syracuse) and the Castles of Augusta and Augusta and Milazzo, as well as the Towers of Enna, of the Colombaia in Trapani, and of Gela. In the14C, due to the Vespers War and to Baronial Anarchy, Sicily withdrew into itself, and the art it produced was a mere continuation of the expressive forms which had characterized the previous age. In the 15C, however, the first step was taken towards a new aesthetic taste. The most outstanding figure in architecture was Matteo Carnalivari of Noto, who was active, in Palermo towards the end of the century (Palazzo Abatellis, Palazzo Aiutamicristo and the church of Santa Maria della Catena). Antonello da Messina (1430-1479) is the greatest Sicilian painter of all time, and one of the greatest 15C masters in Europe. Some of his paintings have remained in Sicily: the Portrait of an Unknown, Seaman, in the Cefalù Mandralisca Museum, the Three Saints and the splendid Annunzíata in the Palermo Gallery, the San Gregorio polyptych in the Messina Museum, and the Annunciation in the Palazzo Bellomo Museum in Syracuse. In sculpture, the most outstanding figure was Domenico Gagini (Bissone c 1420 - Palermo 1492), the founder of a workshop which, for many generations, held a prominent position in the field. In the 16C, the expressive forms of Tuscan and Roman Mannerism began to gain ground. The leading figures were: Antonello Gagini (1478-1536) and Polidoro da Caravaggio (the author of two fine lateral doors in the Duomo of Messina). When Antonello died, his work was continued by his sons. Many Tuscan sculptors moved to Sicily during the 16C, including Montorsoli (famous for the fountains of Orion and Neptune; the Scylla, now in the Messina Museum). Among his disciples were Martino Montanini and A. Calamech. In architecture, the forms of Mannerism became popular in the first half of the 17C. Examples of this are, in Palermo: the Quattro Canti (Giulio Lasso); Porta Felice (Pietro Novelli); the churches of Olivella and San Domenico; the old Shipyard (Mariano Smiriglio); the church of the Teatini (Giacomo Besio). And also: the Town Hall in Syracuse (G. Vermexio); the Benedectine Monastery in Catania (V. De Franchis); the College and Church of the Jesuits in Trapani (N. Masuccio). Baroque art was inaugurated by the church of the Annunziata dei Teatini in Messina (Guaríno Guarini). It took more austere forms in Palermo with Paolo Amato (1634-1714): Church of the Salvatore; and Giacomo Amato (1643-1732): Church of the Pietà and Santa Téresa alla Kalsa. The famous Villas of Bagheria are a case apart: here the architects' creativity is reflected in the scenographic architectural design and sinuous external staircases (Villa Palagonia; Villa Valguarnera; etc., 18C). More fanciful Baroque forms characterize the towns rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake (Catania, Syracuse, Noto, Grammichele, Avola, Ragusa, Modica, etc.). The Palermitan Vaccarini planned the reconstruction work in Catania (façade of the Cathedral; Palazzo Valle; the Town Hall; St Agatha's Abbey). Rosario Gagliardi (1726-1770) was active in different centres: Noto, Ragusa, Comiso, Caltagirone. His works include the churches of San Domenico and of the Collegio (Noto), those of San Giorgio and San Giuseppe (Ragusa) and the Cathedral of Modica. All these works are characterized by plastic structures and dynamic and original outlines. In painting, the most outstanding figure was P. Novelli of Monreale (1603-1647). His works include the paintings in the Capuchin churches at Ragusa and Leonforte, a large painting in Monreale, and a St. Christopher in the Catania Museum. Vito D'Anna (1720-1769) can be considered the founder of the school of Sicilian fresco painters of the second half of the century. In sculpture, Giacomo Serpotta (1656-1732) occupies a place of his own. The descendant of a family of sculptors and plastic artists, he was active in Palermo, where he decorated with joyful stuccoes a large number of churches and oratories (Oratories of San Lorenzo, Santa Cita, etc.). Another great sculptor and plastic artist was Ignazio Marabitti (1719-1797) (marble altarpiece of the Apotheosis of St. Benedict in Monreale Cathedral). 19C architecture began with the neoclassical work of the Palermitan G. V. Marvuglia (1729-1814), including the Oratory of San Filippo Neri all'Olivella and Villa Belmonte, in the Acquasanta quarter (Palermo). The most outstanding figures of late-19C architecture were the Palermitans G. B. F. Basile (Teatro Massimo) and G. Damiani Almeyda (Politeama Garibaldi). The period between the 19C and the 20C was dominated by the architect Ernesto Basile, a talented designer who introduced a refined and independent Sicilian Liberty style, a forerunner of Rationalism. Among his disciples were several distinguished architects.


To call them "Vikings" (Norsemen) is to oversimplify the culture of the medieval Normans, for their society, heritage and genetic make-up were as Frankish and Roman as they were Norse. The term "Norman" refers to the residual Norse and Frankish civilization of Normandy. Much as the Lombards of Lombardy were not purely Longobardic, the Normans of Normandy were not purely Norse. In fact, they were descended not only from Vikings but from Franks, Romans and Celts, and their language was a dialect of French. Unlike their Viking forebears, the Normans were Christians, and their society was highly evolved in its government, law, art, architecture and literature, which during the twelfth century profoundly influenced not only Normandy but England and southern Italy.
The Norsemen ("Viking" comes from the early Scandinavian word vikingr for "pirates") were Danish, Norwegian and Swedish adventurers who rose to power in the ninth century, raiding the coasts of northwestern Europe in places like England and Ireland, and sailing as far as North America. The Swedish element penetrated overland and along rivers into the Baltics and Russia to the Black Sea. Constantinople's Varangian Guard consisted of Vikings such as Harald Sigurdsson ("Hardrada") who fought alongside Normans with George Maniakes in Byzantine Sicily. The Vikings were initially pagans, and their colorful mythology has given us the English names of several days of the week (Wednesday for Woden, Thursday for Thor, etc.), following an earlier Roman custom of naming the days for gods (as in the Italian Mercoledì for Mercury and Giovedì for Jove or Jupiter).
The Franks were a Germanic tribe which settled in Gaul (France and southern Belgium) during the decline of the Roman Empire. The Romans abandoned part of Belgium to the Franks in AD 358. By 507, much of France was united under the Christianized Frankish king Clovis. This included what is now Normandy.
By 900, Vikings were raiding this region but also establishing outposts there. In antiquity, the region of the Seine and Eure valleys had been Celtic. It fell under Roman control through the efforts of Julius Caesar. The Franks had ruled not only in the person of Clovis, but under the reign of Charlemagne. After 911, Charles III "the Simple" ceded Normandy to the Norse chieftain Hrolf (Rollo), who became a Christian. Immigration rapidly increased, and by 1000, following several generations of intermarriage with the "native" Frankish-Celtic population (i.e. Viking men marrying Frankish women), a distinct ethnic culture had emerged. In the decades to follow, Norman knights arrived in Italy, first as pilgrims and then as mercenaries, taking part (on both sides) in the wars between Byzantines and Lombards. In some cases, these were the younger sons of nobles who (under Frankish law) could not inherit lands destined for eldest sons. In others, they were simply wandering men-at-arms.
In general, the Normans of England were somewhat higher-born than their compatriots in Italy, their surnames typically based on familial fiefs in Normandy. Like the conquest of England, the Normans' conquest of Italy was characterized by social and political motivations, though it was much slower than the English campaign. The patriarchs of Rome (the popes) resented Byzantine influence in Italy, and the power of the Lombard feudatories (in peninsular Italy) was viewed as a nuisance. There were also more racist motives. Whereas the competition between Saxons and Normans for England was largely a question of Saxon English-ness versus Norman greed, the campaign against the Sicilian Arabs had all the makings of a "holy war," whether justified or not. The Papacy made it clear that restoring Sicily to Latin Christiandom (separating its Orthodox Christians from Constantinople's influence) was at least as important as reducing the influence of Islam on the island. In the event, the Normans did not Latinize Sicily rapidly enough for Papal tastes, nor did they immediately seek to convert the island's Muslims. In fact, they were often at odds with the popes.
In 1054, the Church separated. The Great Schism left the Latin ("Roman") West distinctive of the Byzantine ("Greek") East, resulting in the churches now described as "Catholic" and "Orthodox." In truth, the conflict had been brewing for two centuries or more, and far transcended theology. In 1061, having assumed control of much of southern Italy, a Norman force crossed into Sicily at Messina and seized the city from its Saracen garrison. The Sicilian conquest now underway was slow and difficult. In 1066, a Norman force, including some knights who had fought in the Italian campaigns, won the Battle of Hastings (based in part on tactics learned at Messina), establishing the Norman presence in England. London was taken soon afterward. In Sicily, on the other hand, the de Hauteville brothers, Robert "Guiscard" and Roger, reached Palermo only in 1071. While Saxon lords paid fealty to William "the Conqueror" of England almost immediately, it took Roger and his knights more than a decade following the Battle of Palermo to bring the entire island under Norman control. (Emir Ibn Hamud of Kasr Yanni surrendered only in 1087.) It was worth the effort. Their Mediterranean jewel was more important --and far wealthier-- than William's rainy realm in the North Sea; revenues from the city of Palermo alone eclipsed those of all England.
For all that, the Normans were not the first northern European invaders to reach Sicilian shores during the Middle Ages. That distinction belongs to the Vandals and Goths, whose rule was short-lived and left few visible traces. By contrast, vestiges of Norman Sicily are everywhere to be found. --particularly churches and castles.
Sicilian society was more sophisticated than what the Normans encountered in England or even mainland Italy. The polyglot culture of the Arabs and Byzantines was a prosperous intellectual, artistic and economic environment at the center of the most important region of the "Western World" --the Mediterranean. It was a geographic crossroads between north and south, east and west. The beautiful Romanesque architectural style of Normandy (Cefalù's cathedral is based on Caen's Saint Etienne church), so important in changing the face of Saxon England, was welcome in Sicily, but it merely embellished what the Byzantines and Arabs already knew. The "Norman-Arab" style of art and architecture was unique, combining Byzantine, Moorish and northern European movements in a new expression of aesthetics.
More important than this was the evolution of the social fabric of Norman Sicily, adapting essentially Arab institutions to European realities. Throughout the Norman era (roughly from1070 to 1200), ethnic and religious tolerance were generally accepted as integral parts of Sicilian society. Though there were conflicts, multicultural co-existence usually prevailed. The Church, but also the Sicilian language, was gradually Latinized. European institutions such as feudalism were introduced. In effect, Norman Sicily became part of Europe rather than Africa (under the Moors) or Asia (under the Byzantines).
On a humanistic level, its multicultural orientation was important enough, but Sicily's emergence as one of Europe's most important regions ushered in a "Golden Age" which continued into the "Swabian" era (of Frederick II) during the thirteenth century. It was probably Sicily's finest hour. The twelfth century saw Sicily become a kingdom under Roger II (whose realm included not only Sicily but most of Italy south of Rome). The Norman government included clerics and from England and Normandy, great Arab thinkers such as Abdullah al-Idrisi, and a young Anglo-Norman queen.
Nowadays, "New World" nations such as Canada, the United States and Australia seem to represent the epitome of tolerant, multicultural societies. In the Middle Ages, however, the concept was a novel one. True, the Roman Empire had embraced many cultures, but it could be argued that Norman Sicily supported a truer equality than most places offered, and it was more benevolent than ancient Rome. Slavery was eventually all but abolished, and serfdom was never as prevalent as it was in England, France or Germany, while freedom of speech and literacy came to be considered every Sicilian's birthright. The Normans' system of justice allowed separate --but equal-- jurisdictions based on Shari'a law for Muslims, Judaic law for Jews, Byzantine Greek law for Byzantines and Norman feudal law for Normans. Important documents were multilingual. True, a Latin (and Roman Catholic) orientation eventually prevailed, but until the reign of Frederick II a more or less egalitarian society existed. At least for a time, it was a successful experiment, and a necessary one.
Despite its ethnic diversity, or perhaps because of it, Norman Sicily evolved into an enduring "nation" with Sicilians as its "people." In other Italian regions such developments were literally centuries away. (This was even true of Sardinia, which, as an island, might reasonably be expected to assume a "national" identity long before it did.) In time, the territory ruled by the Normans, contiguous to Magna Graecia, became known to Italians simply as "il Regno" ("the Kingdom"). Palermo (the Arabs' Bal'harm) was the capital of this realm and later, under Frederick II, the capital of the entire Holy Roman Empire. The period beginning with the arrival of the Normans in 1061 and ending with the death of their descendant, Frederick, in 1250, was a brief --but remarkable-- shining moment in European history.
The Normans retained much of Arab society. After all, there was no need to change certain things which functioned well. Some everyday sights, like the souks (street markets) and Romanesque windows, still exist, of course, but throughout the twelfth century it was the Arabs' institutions that truly distinguished Sicily from other Norman territories, particularly England. Instead of abolishing existing policies and institutions, the Normans built upon what already existed, adapting these as they found necessary. This was enlightened rule, especially from renegades and mercenaries who just a few decades earlier were pillaging the Italian countryside.
It is generally believed that most red-haired and blue-eyed Sicilians owe their coloring to the medieval Normans or the Lombards who often accompanied them. Yet we do not know how many Normans settled in Sicily. Most were men, most were knights or other soldiers, and many were feudatories, effectively constituting the earliest medieval Sicilian landed aristocracy. Most married Sicilian-born women. The best estimate of the Norman migration places it at fewer than eight thousand persons arriving between 1061 and 1161, but even this is highly speculative. It certainly was not a mass immigration comparable to those of the Arabs (Saracens) or ancient Greeks. The first Norman incursions into Sicily were measured in hundreds of Norman knights accompanied by greater numbers of non-Norman infantry, and not all of them remained here. Except for Benedictine and diocesan clergy, there were few men of learning among the Norman arrivals.
Change did not come overnight. Some localities were more Orthodox Christian and Greek-speaking while others were predominantly Muslim and Arabic-speaking. Mosques stood alongside churches and synagogues. The Norman vassals and knights, though Christian, were Roman Catholic. It was the Normans who Latinized Sicily (just as they Latinized the language of Saxon England), both linguistically and ecclesiastically. Some isolated Orthodox monasteries in the northeast of Sicily survived this process for a time, but most of Sicily's greatest Norman churches, though boasting some superficially Byzantine elements, were founded (or re-constructed) as Latin (Roman Catholic) ones.
The Norman era lasted through four rulers (two Rogers succeeded by two Williams), followed by a Swabian (German) wed to Constance, the last surviving Norman princess, in a land where --at least in theory-- only men ruled. Her son, Frederick II, could be said to have continued the Norman tradition but he was a Hohenstaufen and not a Hauteville. In the event, the "home rule" of Sicily from its own capital effectively ended with his death in the middle of the thirteenth century. Henceforth, the island was to be governed from Naples or from cities even further afield. The Sicily of the Normans represents a unique time in history which, like all such periods, was not to last forever. In the words of John Julius Norwich:
"Norman Sicily stood forth in Europe --and indeed in the whole bigoted medieval world-- as an example of tolerance and enlightenment, a lesson in the respect that every man should feel for those whose blood and beliefs happen to differ from his own."