SICILY

PEOPLE & LIFESTYLE

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PEOPLE

The majority of Sicilian people speak a Sicilian variant of Italian, which is often considered a language of its own. Archimedes, the historical Diodor or the composer Bellini are among a long list of famous Sicilian people.
The unique and rich history of the island with its long centuries of influences from different cultures and societies, shaped a unique identity that many Sicilians would relate to. Sicilian, not Italian, defines the identity of many.
Sicilian life centers around family and loyalty to your family and friends is one of the most important qualities one can possess. During the Spanish ruled 18th century, how you and your family appeared to the outside world was a matter of honor, respectability and pride. Also today, image is important and the use of creative exaggeration is not uncommon to make oneself appear in a better light.
Further, Sicily has been dominated by patriarchism for centuries, and “manliness” is still a prime concern. While men as the “head” look after the family and facilitate the upward mobility of family members, women are traditionally the repository of the family’s honor and the expectation to act according to traditional values is higher..
Religion has and still is a big deal in Sicily. The overwhelming majority of the Sicilian population consider themselves practicing Roman Catholics and the mix of faith and superstition is still strong. The younger, cosmopolitan Sicilians tend to move away from traditional religious devotion, but the respect for religion remains strong. Pilgrimages, annual feast days and processions still play an integral part in the island’s calendar.
Since the late 19th century, emigration has been a pressing issue in Sicilian society. Huge numbers of young Sicilians, often well educated, leave the island, mainly for economic reasons including high unemployment and nepotist favoring system. Immigrants arriving from outside the EU put further pressure on the infrastructure, housing and job market.

ARTS & CULTURE

Having been a melting pot of cultures and Mediterranean civilizations for thousands of years, Sicily is a showcase of art and architecture of the Mediterranean. From early graffities found in caves, the Doric temples at Agrigento or the late baroque villages in the Southeast, each wave of civilization has left its mark and relics of each era can be found in archaeological museums or reflect in architecture.

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ARCHITECTURE

Having been a melting pot of cultures and Mediterranean civilizations for thousands of years, Sicily is a showcase of art and architecture of the Mediterranean. From early graffities found in caves, the Doric temples at Agrigento or the late baroque villages in the Southeast, each wave of civilization has left its mark and relics of each era can be found in archaeological museums or reflect in architecture.
Dating back to the Greek legacy, the Doric temples found at Agrigento or Segesta are some of the best preserved temples in the world. Further, a wide range of artifacts including ceramics, amphores, sculptures or ornaments date back to the Greek era.
The artistic heritage left by the Romans looks comparably small, except for the Villa Romana at Casale with its vast poly-chrome floor mosaics. Several amphi-theaters at Taormina, Syracuse or Catania date back to the Romans.
The Normans began to transform Sicily from the 11th century, erecting huge Cathedrals and churches, including the Cathedrals at Cefalu, Monreale and Palermo.
Art and architecture came to a standstill under Spanish occupation and you can find only very little traces of the rich Renaissance architecture that is so evident in mainland Italy in Sicily. Much of the style for architecture in the 15th and 16th century was dominated by the Gagini Family, combining Renaissance and Gothic forms to create uniquely Sicilian pieces.
The earthquake in Eastern Sicily in 1693 paved the way for a unique Sicilian architectural style. The Sicilian baroque, combining Spanish inspired baroque style with Sicilian decorative and structural elements, is dominant in the cities that were rebuilt after the devastating earthquake, including Catania and the towns of the Noto valley.
From the late 19th century, Palermo became one of the centers of Art Nouveau. Inspired by nature, the style encompassed architecture, interior design, paintings, fashion, furniture and much more. The Villa Favoloro, the Via Libertia and the streets running off it are fine examples of areas dominated by Art Nouveau. Further, the interior of the Teatro Massimo features some Art Nouveau paintings and decorations.

VISUAL ARTS

While architecture was neglected during the Spanish occupation, paintings and sculptures were preeminent and visual arts dating back to that time reveal mainly Spanish and Flemish influences. Antonello da Messina, one of Sicily’s greatest artists, emerged during this period, initially inspired by the Flemish school and later showing influences of mainland Italy renaissance. His paintings can be found in various museums across Sicily, including Palermo, Cefalu, Messina and Syracuse. He is known for his exacting detail, intriguing portraits and the luminous quality of his paintings. His skillful use of oil paints was adopted by Italian Renaissance artists in his wake and it became the standard medium for some of the world’s greatest masterpieces.
The Gagini family of sculptors and architects, inspired by the elements of Northern and central Italian art, had an enormous influence in the 15th and 16th century and many of their sculptures can still be found in many of the churches of Palermo.
Giacomo Serpotta is known to be one of the most relevant artists of the 17th and 18th century, decorating baroque interiors and creating aesthetic transitions between architecture and paintings by covering all available spaces with figures and scenes modeled in stucco.
The eclectic painter, sculptor and set designer Salvatore Fiume was one of Sicily’s most prestigious contemporary artists and his works can be found in well known houses like the Vatican Museum or the Hermitage in St Petersburg. Further, the painter Renato Guttuso became renowned for his nudes, landscapes and still-lifes.

MUSIC

The historic roots of Sicilian music lie within the Greek, Arab and Spanish culture and the result was a unique fusion of different musical elements. The instruments typical of Sicilian folk music are the “scacciapensieri” - in metal, similar to a horseshoe - which is called, according to the area, mariolu, marranzanu or ngannalaruni, the azzarinu (a percussion instrument), the “friscalettu” (flute-beak), “tammurinu” (big tambourine) or “ciarabedda” (bagpipes).
The composer Vincenzo Bellini was born in Catania, trained in Naples and buried in Catania’s Cathedral. His successful early works led to commissions for La Scala in Milan and “The Sleepwalker” and “Norma” are among his most successful operas.
Today, Sicily and especially Palermo has the liveliest jazz scene in Italy. When many Sicilians migrated to the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries, traditional music mixed with sounds coming from the local African American communities and jazz developed. Back in Sicily, Arab and Sicilian influences have been added to the American jazz.

LITERATURE

It comes as no surprise that Sicilian literature is a reflection of Sicily's cultural identity over the centuries. Literature is varied, multiple and lengthy and it is difficult to label it with just one unique Sicilian style.
Most historians and linguists agree that the Sicilian style of literature was born in the twelfth century at the Norman and Swabian courts with the Sicilian language. Until then, most Sicilians spoke Byzantine Greek or Siculo-Arabic (or both), or perhaps Norman-French. The Normans and the Church of Rome brought a Latin influence to Sicily that had all but vanished with the fall of the Empire in the fifth century.
The golden age of Sicilian poetry began in the early 13th century with the Sicilian School of Giacomo da Lentini, which had a massive influence on Italian literature. Its importance was recognized by Dante.
Apart from early Greek mythology, literature was most often written in Italian or Sicilian by authors who were born and raised in Sicily. As a common, underlying trait, Sicilian literature comes with a certain sense of realism and a critical reflection on everyday societal or political issues,
Some of the most noted figures among writers and poets are Giovanni Verga, the father of the Italian Verismo (literary realism), Luigi Pirandello, known as the founder of the 20th century drama and Salvatore Quasimodo, who wrote anti-fascist works in a political climate that made it necessary to disguise his message. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1959. Leonardo Sciascia was known for his insights into the complicated worlds of Sicilian thinking or the Mafia culture.

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