Author: Norman H
Date of Trip: October 2007
We were really expecting to be in Italy. What a surprise Sicily turned out to be. Just a couple miles separates it from the mainland but centuries of history, culture and geographical change will keep it separated from Italy forever.
Geologists actually say that the island of Sicily broke off from the African continent rather than the European continent…..but that’s really ancient history.
In the more recent records of history Sicily has been ruled by just about everyone who owned a boat or two. I won’t bore anyone with the complete list but will bore you with a shortened list, just because it’s unbelievable. Over the centuries the people of Sicily were conquered by the Vandals, the Ostrogoths, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Normans (go team, go), the Swabians (that’s a new one on me…..who in the world were the Swabians???), the Angevins, the Spanish, the Austrians and finally the Bourbons. When Garibaldi started his unification of Italy in Sicily (1860) the final conquerors, the Cosa Nostra started firming up the real government which would rule Sicily during the 20th century. Sicily had once been so powerful that it defeated Athens. Now the power in the new Italy was moving north to Rome and Milan. Sicily was left in the hands of absentee landlords who hired local thugs (Mafia) to manage their property.
The Greek influence in Sicily is one of the most powerful. The Temples around Agrigento are as beautiful as any in Greece, and most of them are better preserved. The pride of the Sicilians in their Greek heritage seems even stronger than any pride they might have from the Roman Empire accomplishments.
The natural beauty of the island is everywhere. From the charming medieval coastal cities to the rocky cliffs it’s terrain is varied and beautiful. We lucked out with a clear day on top of Mount Etna and were able to enjoy the changing colors of the thick vegetation in contrast to the blackness of the ubiquitous lava.
And despite the natural beauty, the rich heritage and the warmth of a wonderful Sicilian guide……..all seems to dim in the shadows of the Mafia influence. How insidious and destructive this influence was on the good people of Sicily will long be debated. And it’s not like the Mafia is wiped out: quite the contrary. They are still there, still strong, still killing and still ruling many parts of Sicily.
We visited Corleone (hum the theme from Godfather) and had a tour of the “Anti-Mafia museum” and heard of the efforts to eradicate the Mafia. Big progress has been made…….lots more needs to be done. Part of the problem is that the Italian government refused to acknowledge that the Mafia existed for about 30 years (Global warming, anyone?) Once the powers of good started to prevail it became evident that the Mafia had taken over the highest levels of the Government. Indeed from 1947 Giulio Andreotti served as senator, minister and SEVEN TERMS AS PRIME MINISTER until being taken down as a member of the Mafia in 1992.
It was really somewhat depressing. Maybe it was because I was reading a really heavy book, MIDNIGHT IN SICILY which told the whole gruesome story of the Cosa Nostra. At any rate it was nice to hear from the “Anti-Mafia Museum” lecturer that finally things were getting under control. Less than a week later we saw in the local papers that another killing had just taken place……one of the “boss of bosses” knocked off another of the leaders. it’s typical of the way the Soprano’s portrayed families staying in power…..wipe out the other guys. (Any comparison to Giuliani running the rest of the crooks out of New York???). Just kidding.
Thankfully we had a group of 26 friends who made this a really special trip. Without them it would have been a somewhat dark, almost 3rd world, experience. With them it was two weeks of fun, laughter, open bars and renewed friendships. For Mary and I it made it very clear why we TRAVEL WITH FRIENDS.
For more info on this or other trips we have taken with Grand Circle, just shoot me an firstname.lastname@example.org