Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Several much smaller islands surrounding it are considered to be part of Sicily.
Throughout much of its history, Sicily has been considered a crucial strategic location due in large part to its importance for Mediterranean trade routes. The area was highly regarded as part of Magna Graecia, with Cicero describing Siracusa as the greatest and most beautiful city of all Ancient Greece.
The island was once a city-state in its own right, and as the Kingdom of Sicily ruled from Palermo over southern Italy, Sicily, and Malta. It later became a part of the Two Sicilies under the Bourbons, a kingdom governed from Naples that comprised both the island itself and most of Southern Italy. The Italian unification of 1860 led to the dissolution of this kingdom, and Sicily became an autonomous part of the Kingdom of Italy. Sicily is today an autonomous region of Italy. Of all the regions of Italy, Sicily is the one that covers the largest land area at 25,708 square kilometres (9,926 sq mi) and currently has just over five million inhabitants.
Sicily has its own unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, cuisine, architecture and language. The Sicilian economy is largely based on agriculture (mainly orange and lemon orchards); this same rural countryside has attracted significant tourism in the modern age as its natural beauty is highly regarded. Sicily also holds importance for archeological and ancient sites such as the Necropolis of Pantalica and the Valley of the Temples.
Sicily is well known as a center of organized Crime. The major Italian mafia centers of Naples and Palermo have given rise to mob families far beyond the shores- in the US and Other parts of Europe. The reputed income of Italian mobs, of which Sicilian families Cosa Nostra are preeminent, was estimated to be 63 billion Euros or 7 percent of Italian Economy according to estimates by the Confesercenti, Italy's leading retail associationReport
Sicily is directly adjacent to the Italian region of Calabria, via the Strait of Messina to the east. The early Roman name for Sicily was Trinacria, alluding to its triangular shape. Sicily has been noted for two millennia as a grain-producing territory. Citrons, oranges, lemons, olives, olive oil, almonds, and wine are among its other agricultural products. The mines of the Enna and Caltanissetta district became a leading sulfur-producing area in the 19th century but have declined since the 1950s.
Sicily and its small surrounding islands are highly significant in the area of volcanology. Mount Etna, located in the east, is the only volcano on mainland Sicily; with a height of 3,320 m (10,900 ft) it is the tallest active volcano in Europe and one of the most active in the world. As well as Etna, there are several non-volcanic mountain ranges in Sicily: Sicani to the west, Eeri in the central area and Hyblaean in the south-east. Across the north of Sicily there are three others: Madonie, Nebrodi and Peloritani.
The Aeolian Islands to the north-east are volcanically significant with Stromboli currently active, also in the Tyrrhenian Sea are the three dormant volcanos of Vulcano, Vulcanello and Lipari. 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, on the Phlegraean Fields of the Strait of Sicily.
The island of Sicily is drained by several rivers, most of which flow through the central area and enter the sea at the south of the island. The Salso River flows through parts of Enna and Caltanissetta before entering the Mediterranean Sea at the port of Licata. To the east the Alcantara in the province of Messina, it exits at Giardini Naxos and the Simeto. Other important rivers on the island are to the south-west with Belice and Platani.
The family is at the heart of Sicilian culture as it has always been for generations. Family members often live close together, sometimes in the same housing complex, and sons and daughters usually remain at home with their parents until they marry, which tends to occur later than in previous decades. Couples today have fewer children than before, yet babies and children are much revered in Sicilian culture and almost always accompany their parents to social events.
Sicilian weddings are lavish, expensive, and traditional. They are normally held in church. The Catholic church is an important feature in Sicilian life. Almost all public places are adorned with crucifixes upon their walls, and most Sicilian homes contain pictures of saints, statues, and other relics. Each town and city has its own patron saint, and the feast days are marked by gaudy processions through the streets with marching bands and displays of fireworks.
A carnival float in Acireale.
Sicilian religious festivals also include the presepe vivente , which takes place at Christmas time. Deftly combining religion and folklore, it is a constructed mock 19th century Sicilian village, complete with a nativity scene, and has people of all ages dressed in the costumes of the period, some impersonating the Holy Family, and others working as artisans of their particular assigned trade. It is normally concluded on Ephiphany, often highlighted by the arrival of the magi on horseback.
Sicilians also enjoy outdoor festivals, held in the local square or piazza where live music and dancing are performed on stage, and food fairs or sagras are set up in booths lining the square. These offer various local specialties, as well as typical Sicilian food. Normally these events are concluded with fireworks. The most important laic event in Sicily is the carnival. Famous carnivals are in Misterbianco, Regalbuto, Paternò, Sciacca, Acireale, Termini Imerese.