After a lot of exploring within the streets of Palermo, we felt the impact of all the dynasties which have reigned over Sicily for thousands of years. We developed a sense of all their influences which have endured and evolved through-out years in the Sicilian culture, traditions, customs, legends, language, multitude of architectural styles, the foods, farming, pottery making, mythologies, and in a whole host of other ways.
Here are the cliff notes’ excerpts, listing Sicily’s historical timeline as detailed in Lonely Planet’s last edition of “Southern Italy” from 750 BC -1915 AD.
750 to 600 BC
“The Greeks begin establishing cities all over Sicily, including Naxos and Syracuse in Sicily.”
“After a series of false starts, the Roman Empire is divided into an Eastern and Western half just east of Rome. In 330 Constantine moves the imperial capital to Byzantium and names it, Constantinople.”
“In 535 AD, the Byzantine General Belisarius landed an army on the island’s shores. Despite falling to the Visigoths in AD 470 after more than 700 years of Roman occupation, the islands population was still largely Greek, both in language and custom. The Byzantines were eager to use Sicily as a launching pad for the retaking of the lands owned by the combined forces of Arabs, Berbers, and Spanish Muslims (Saracens), but their dreams were not to be realized.”
827- 965 AD
“A Saracen army lands at Mazaradel Vallo in Sicily in 827. The island is united under Arab rule and Palermo becomes the second largest city in the world after Constantinople.” Under them, churches were converted to mosques and Arabic was implemented as the common language. At the same time, much needed land reforms were introduced and trade, agriculture and mining were fostered. New crops were introduced, including citrus trees, date palms and sugar cane, and a system of water supply and irrigation was developed. Palermo was chosen as the capital of the new emirate and, over the next 200 years, it became one of the most splendid cities in the Arab world.”
“Norman invader Roger II is crowned king of Sicily, a century after the Normans landed in southern Italy; a united southern Italian kingdom is created.”
“Frederick II is crowned Holy Roman Emperor in Aachen where he symbolically re-enters Charlemagne’s body in a silver and gold reliquary. He takes the cross and vows of a crusader.”
1270 -1500 AD
“The French Angevins and Spanish Aragonese spend the best part of two centuries fighting over southern Italy, instability, warfare, the Black Death and over taxation strangle the region’s economic development.”
“On Easter Monday 1282, the city of Palermo exploded in rebellion. Incited by the alleged rape of a local girl by a gang of French troops, peasants lynched every French soldier they could get their hands on. The revolt spread to the countryside and was supported by Sicilian nobility, who had formed an alliance with Peter of Aragon. Peter landed at Trapani with with a large army and was proclaimed king. For the next 20 years, the Aragonese and the Angevins were engaged in the War of the Sicilian Vespers- a war that was eventually won by the Spanish.”
“By the end of the 14th century, Sicily had been thoroughly marginalized. The eastern Mediterranean was sealed off by the Ottoman Turks, while the Italian mainland was off limits on account of Sicily’s political ties with Spain. As a result, the Renaissance passed the island by, reinforcing the oppressive effects of poverty and ignorance. Even Spain lost interest in its colony, choosing to rule by viceroys. By the end of the 15th century, the viceroy’s court was a den of corruption, and the most influential body on the island became the Catholic Church (whose archbishops were mostly Spanish). The church exercised draconian powers through a network of Holy Office tribunals, known as the INQUISITION.”
“Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Spain inherits southern Italy. The region is strategically important to Spain in its battle with France. Charles invests in defenses in cities like Lecce.”
“Naples becomes Europe’s largest city with a population of over 300,000. Among its growing number of residents is the renegade artist, Caravaggio, who arrives in 1606.” Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was an Italian painter who worked on his craft in Rome, Naples, Malta, and Sicily between 1592 and 1610.
“Gross mismanagement causes the southern Italian economy to collapse. In Naples, the Masaniello Revolt breaks out over heavy taxes. Revolt spreads to the provinces and peasant militias rule the countryside.”
“The end of the War of the Spanish Succession forces the withdrawal of Spanish forces from Lombardy. The Spanish Bourbon family establishes an independent Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.”
“For years, Sicily was passed around for decades from European power to European power like an unwanted Christmas present. Eventually the Spanish reclaimed the island in 1734, this time under the Bourbon King Charles III of Sicily until 1759.”
1798- 1799 AD
“Napoleon (French empire) invades Italy and occupies Rome. Ferdinand I (Spanish empire) sends an army to evict him, but his troops flee. The French counter-attack and take Naples, establishing the Partheno-pean Republic.”
“Napoleon is proclaimed king of the newly constituted Kingdom of Italy, comprising most of the northern half of the country. A year later, he also retakes the Kingdom of Naples.”
“European revolts spark rebellion in Italy. The Bourbons are expelled from Sicily but retake it in a rain of fire that earns Ferdinand II the epithet “Re Bomba” (King Bomb).”
“In the name of Italian unity, Giuseppi Garibaldi lands with 1000 men, known as the red shirts, in Sicily. He takes the island and moves into southern Italy.”
“By the end of the 1859- 1861 Franco- Austrian War, Vittorio Emanuelle II controls Lombardy, Sardinia, Sicily, southern Italy and parts of central Italy, and is proclaimed king of a newly united Italy.”
“People vote with their feet; millions of impoverished southerners embark on ships for the New World, causing a massive hemorrhage of the most able-bodied and hardworking southern male youths.”
“Raffaele Esposito invents “pizza margherita” in honor of Queen Margherita, who takes her first bite of the Neapolitan staple on a royal visit to the city.”
“Italy enters WWI on the side of the Allies to win Italian territories still in Austrian hands after Austria’s offer to cede some of the territories is deemed insufficient.