Lexicon of Sicily, from Salvatore Giuliano to Stromboli

Sicilian encyclopedia for travel and knowledge

Salvatore Giuliano was born in Montelepre as the fourth child of Salvatore and Maria Giuliano and was nicknamed Turiddu or Turi. He had a decent primary education, but then went to work on his father's land at the age of thirteen. He transported olive oil and worked as a telephone repairman and on road construction. He was called into the Italian army, but the US invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky) prevented his actual enlistment. He became involved in the wartime black market and was armed in case of attacks from bandits.

Salvatore Riina, also known as Toto Riina (born November 16, 1930 in Corleone) is a member of the Sicilian Mafia who became the most powerful member of the criminal organisation in the early 1980s. Fellow mobsters nicknamed him The Beast due to his violent nature, or sometimes The Short One due to his diminutive height (La Belva and U curtu in Sicilian respectively) although apparently they never called him these nicknames to his face. During his life-long career in crime he is believed to have personally killed around forty people and to have ordered the deaths of upwards of a thousand more. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Riina and his Mafia faction, the Corleonesi, waged a ruthless campaign of violence against both rival mobsters and the state which culminated in the assassination of two judges. This caused widespread public revulsion of the Mafia and led to a major crackdown by the authorities, resulting in the capture and imprisonment of Riina and many of his associates.

San Vito lo Capo - Provincia di Trapani is a town and comune in North-Western Sicily. It has about 4000 inhabitants. The small town is located in a valley between spectacular mountains and have a spectaculary beach which attracts many people from Palermo as well as foreign tourists. The town's primary industries are tourism and agriculture, particularly olive groves owned by small farmers. The town's eastern border is provided by a small range of mountains, the northernmost of which is peaked by a large cross visible from the public beach below. The mountain is popular with local climbers, and a logbook is provided at the cross for climbers to record their adventures. The mountain is also home to numerous caves, most of which are inaccessible without professional climbing gear. At the south, is the Riserva naturale dello Zingaro.

Sciacca (Latin: Thermae Selinuntinae) is a town in the province of Agrigento on the southern coast of Sicily. It has noteworthy views of the Mediterranean Sea.
Thermae was founded in the 5th century BCE by the Greeks, as its name imports, as a thermal spa for Selinunte, whose citizens came there to bathe in the sulphurous springs of Mt. Cronio, which rises up behind the town. We have no account of the existence of a town on the site during the period of the independence of Selinunte, though there is little doubt that the thermal waters would always have attracted some population to the spot. Nor even under the Romans did the place attain to anything like the same importance with the northern Thermae; and there is little doubt that Pliny is mistaken in assigning the rank of a colonia to the southern instead of the northern town of the name. Strabo mentions the waters; and they are again noticed in the Itineraries under the name of Aquae Labodes or Labrodes (Itin. Ant. p. 89; Tab. Peut.) Sciacca itself owes its origins to the Saracens, who settled there in the 9th century. Although the origins of the town's name have been much debated, it is thought to have come from the Arabic word "xacca", meaning "water". The Saracens built the original walls and laid out the street grid, which was later expanded by the Normans. Throughout much of the Middle Ages, the town was at the center of a bloody feud between rival baronial families and, it was the citizenry that bore the brunt of the fighting; in less than 100 years over half the population was killed by one side or the other.

Selinunte. is derived from the Greek name for the sweet-smelling herb they called Selinon: wild celery as well as mountain parsley. Funnily enough, this herb that the ancients held in such high esteem was dedicated to Persephone, it was widely used to crown victors at the Isthmian games and to make wreaths for adorning the tombs of the dead. It grew in profusion in this part of Sicily and appears on the first coins minted by the town. The colony was founded by settlers from Megara Hyblaea during the 7C BC. For a long time, Selinunte allied itself to Carthage, in the hope of securing support in the fight with its rival, Segesta. Although, in the end, it was destroyed in 409 BC by the Carthaginian Hannibal who used ferociously cruel methods in winning supremacy: this resulted in the death of 16,000 Selinuntini and the capture of a further 5000 as prisoners. When the survivors begged him for their freedom and for the temples of the city to be spared in return for a substantial payment, Hannibal consented; once he had the cash in hand, he sacked the temples and pulled down the walls. Selinus invested every last effort in repairing the damage and, against the odds to struggle to survive until the Second Punic War, when it was razed to the ground. The ruins of Selinunte are scattered over an almost deserted area having been completely abandoned since its downfall: the ruined temples continue to point their impressive great columns to the sky, while other buildings, reduced to heaps of rubble, probably by an earthquake, inspire a tragic air of utter desolation. The fine metopes which once adorned several of the temple friezes are displayed in the archeological museum in Palermo. There are three main areas: the first, spread across the hill on the eastern side, contains three large temples; one having been re-erected in 1957. The second, on the hill to the west and surrounded by walls, comprises the acropolis, south of the actual town. The third, lying west of the acropolis, beyond the River Modione, also consisted of a sacred precinct complete with temples and sanctuaries. In the absence of any sure knowledge as to which gods the temples were dedicated, scholars have identified them with letters of the alphabet. To complete the picture, it is well worth visiting the quarries from where the stone was brought.

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Syracuse or Siracusa (ancient Syracusa), city and port of Italy, capital of Syracuse Province, on the southeastern coast of the island of Sicily. The old portion of the city is located on Ortygia Island, separated by a canal from the mainland. The city is a tourist center, a fishing port, and a marketing center for agricultural products, particularly olive oil and citrus fruits. In antiquity Syracuse was the largest and most powerful city in Sicily. The remains of the old city include a Greek theater, cut out of rock and designed to hold an audience of 15,000; a Roman amphitheater; the great altar of Hiero II; and the citadel built by Dionysius the Younger early in the 4th century BC. The Fountain of Arethusa is a famed landmark. Colonists from the Greek city-state of Corinth founded Syracuse in 734 BC. The original settlement on Ortygia soon extended to the mainland. In 485 BC Gelon, tyrant of Gela, made himself master of Syracuse, which then became the seat of his government. Gelon became famous for his victory over the Carthaginians at Himera in 480 BC. He was succeeded by his brother Hiero I, who was celebrated throughout the Greek world as a patron of the arts. Among the famous Greek poets who spent time at his court were Aeschylus, Pindar, Simonides of Ceos, Bacchylides, and Epicharmus. In 466 BC the democrats expelled Hiero's brother and successor, and for 60 years Syracuse had a free and democratic government. Hostilities with the city of Segesta led in 415 BC to the great two-year struggle with Athens in which the Syracusans, with Spartan aid, annihilated the invading Athenians and contributed decisively to the final Spartan victory (404 BC) in the Peloponnesian War. The conquests of Carthage in Sicily toward the end of the 5th century BC threatened the existence of Syracuse, but under Dionysius the Elder, who became tyrant of the city in 405 BC, Syracuse developed into the chief power of Sicily. The reigns of Dionysius the Younger and of Dion were unsettled. After the overthrow of the tyranny and the restoration of public liberty in 343 BC, a brief period of tranquillity ensued. In 317 BC Agathocles restored the despotic form of government, which continued during the reign of Hiero II. After 263 BC Hiero was a faithful ally of Rome against the Carthaginians, but upon his death in 215 BC the pro-Carthaginian party seized control of the city. The Romans captured Syracuse in 212 BC, although the defenses of the city had been strengthened by the machines of the Greek inventor Archimedes. Under Roman rule Syracuse declined, but continued to be the capital and first city of Sicily. Captured, pillaged, and burned by the Saracens in AD 878, the city then sank into decay.

Sperlinga (Nebrodi). Almost at the center of Sicily, between the Nebrodi and the Madonie, a castle rises, partially hollowed out of a colossal mass of sandstone by the Siculi starting from the 12th century B.C., and partially constructed from the rock itself around the year 1000. Among the various rupestrian castles of Sicily, that of Sperlinga is without doubt one of the most fascinating. In the year 1282, during the period of the Sicilian Vespers, a French garrison barricaded itself inside, resisting the siege for an entire year. The episode is commemorated by a 16th-century inscription on the arch of the entrance hall: QUOD SICULIS PLACUIT SOLA SPERLINGA NEGAVIT. Going beyond what must have been the drawbridge, one enters a series of rooms which lead to the heart of the castle, where man's ingenuity blends with the beauty of nature: the rock now becomes a stable, capable of lodging dozens of horses, now a metal workshop, and then a prison and water cistern, or a storage area for foodstuffs. There is a quaint circular room whose walls present twelve small niches separated by increasingly wide intervals: according to some this mysterious grotto was a place of worship, while others believe it housed a particular system for measuring time. The steep stairway, almost cut into the rock, leads to the tower, from whose merlons the world seems to lie at the feet of the observer. Another curiosity is furnished by the "aggrottato": the entire side of the castle which descends towards the village is "perforated" by about 50 artificial grottoes, hollowed out by man in remote times. Connected to each other by small streets and steps hollowed out of the rock as well, together they comprise an evocative rupestrian village. The interior of each grotto became a humble dwelling-place, with one or at the most two rooms which still bear the signs of the thousands of years which have passed. Some have been purchased by the municipality and are used for an ethnographic museum. The Church of the Mercede lies at the feet of the castle, preserving a precious wooden crucifix which was once located in the church inside the castle. The mother church, with a single aisle and very simple, was built by order of prince Giovanni Natoli starting from 1597. The village's third church is that of Sant'Anna: the structure, which dates to the second half of the 17th century, is attached to the convent of the Augustinians and preserves the wooden crucifix of the Frate Umile da Petralia school. All of the area surrounding Sperlinga is, as its name says, abounding in caverns and grottoes hollowed out of the sandstone. The most interesting rupestrian sites include that of Contrada Rossa, which may have hosted an early Christian community (upon whose church a mosque was subsequently constructed, as can be seen), that of the Contrada SS. Quaranta, in whose grottoes sepulchral niches were hollowed out during the 4th-6th centuries A.D., and that of Peirito, with its early Christian tombs.

Stromboli. We can however conclude that the Stromboli volcano, due to the existence of the two eruptive forms, places it amongst the most active volcanoes existing on the Earth today. Upon making a tour of the island and beginning from the vast beach of Scari, one sees the area of Punta Lena with white houses amongst huge palms which lend an Arabic aspect to the countryside. At the centre excels an old factory surmounted by a high chimney: the only one which is outlined against the sky of the island. Proceeding to the North, having passed Punta Lena, one skirts a beach set against a wall of tuff, after which opens up the central beach of the island, called Ficogrande, where steamers berth and which connect Stromboli with Sicily and Campania. This beach, as also that of Scari, up to the first World War accommodated large sailing vessels, which made the Stromboli merchant shipping the most important of the Aeolian Archipelago. Continuing the circular tour there stand out high rocky walls which advance decisively into the sea. Having passed this there opens up to the marvelled eye, the grandiose vision of the Sciara del Fuoco, steep and vast slope ploughed through by torrents of lava which flow towards the sea carrying, enormous incandescent blocks which roll into the valley amidst a dense whirl of vapour and squall of cinders. At the top of the Sciara, at a height of 700 metres, one observes the eruptive apparatus, which opens, deeply encased amongst gigantic dykes and large masses of volcanic conglomerate often wrapped in thick fog and harassed by the burning material launched from the eruptive openings. The spectacle offered by the Sciara assumes particular interest during the night: the streams then seem to be fantastic torrents of fire whilst the darkness becomes dispersed by luminous bands of enflamed slag, the vivid flashes of which reflect sinisterly on the sea. At times the incandescent streams seem motionless and suspended in the air owing to a curtain of fog which usually envelops the slope. From time to time rivulets detach themselves from their course with the shape of enormous, frightful dragons of nibelungen memory. Other streams flowing with imperceptible motion, divide and branch out like rivers in their delta. Often the crater launches incandescent masses of unmeasurable proportions which, at great heights, open fan-like letting fall, over a large area, a myriad of slag and luminous blocks similar to a rain of meteorites. In Piazza S. Pietro in Rome, the illuminated Bernini fountains give but a vague idea of such spectacle. The blocks of fire plummet onto the Sciara breaking into a thousand splinters like the sparks which fly from red-hot iron hammered on the anvil.