Now that I'm leaving Italy, I realise – with some shame – how little I actually knew/know about the place, its history and its people. For example, it wasn't until I was leaving last night on the ferry that I realised where Malta is (I know Malta isn't Italy but it's indicative of my lack of knowledge, embarrassingly!).
I've managed to visit Italy during its 150th birthday celebrations. It was in 1861 that Garibaldi lead the unification of Italy (including Sicily) into one nation state. Before that, I think, it was a series of principalities and small states. It took me some time to realise that the banners I kept seeing everywhere we're celebrating this fact. And even longer to remember that it was Garibaldi who was responsible. I now understand why there are so many streets dedicated to Vittorio Emmanuele – he was their first king. I'm not so sure who Cavour was, but there are lots of streets to him too. [Note to self: remember to look that up on Wiki when you're next online.]
I'd also never put together that Sicily played a significant role in the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage. Hamilcar and Hannibal both battled over the island. I seem to remember references in the set book passages we had to translate in O Grade Latin. Having been to Tunisia (Carthage, I think?) and now Sicily has brought a bit more to life. Of course, visiting Rome should have done the same, but it was just so full of tourists and tourist tat that it was hard to see beyond it. (Have I mentioned at all, that I didn't like Rome much?!)
As well as Rome and Carthage battling over the island, it seems to have been the target of a huge number of other invaders. Perhaps not surprising, given its prime location at the crossroads of the Mediterranean? Amongst these invaders were – the Greeks, the Turks, the Spanish, the French, the Germans, the Allied Forces towards the end of WWII and now, it seems, waves of hopeful emigrants from North Africa, the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent – if the media is to be believed, many of them illegal. No wonder then, that the island is such a hotch potch of different cultures, cuisines and traditions. Each of them brought and left a little something, which all put together makes Sicily what it is today.
I would highly recommend a visit to this wonderful island. Don't miss out Palermo despite what everyone says. If you do, you'll miss an important element of what Sicily is. If you don't like edge to your holidays, however, don't stay long – it won't be for you. Head off instead to the seaside towns and hill top villages, visit the remnants of the various civilisations to populate and create the place and – above all – forget any notions of diet and enjoy the food! It's what I'll be doing when I come back next time.