Best of Sicily
Food & Wine
Map of Sicily
a Tale of Two Sicilies. An island divided. Not that you'll notice
the phenomenon during a brief visit. But to Sicilians there's a subtle --and
sometimes not-so-subtle-- rivalry, even antipathy, between Catania
and Palermo, east
and west. It's not just about football (soccer) teams, and it's nothing new.
Where's the line dividing the two Sicilies? It runs from around Santo
Stefano di Camastra southward through the eastern region of the Madonie Mountains, between Enna
and then southward to Licata. Agrigento is in the western half, Gela in
the east. If you live in Enna you probably gravitate toward the shopping,
university and bureaucracy of Catania; if you're from Caltanissetta "the
city" probably means Palermo. Yet Enna and Caltanissetta are separated,
geographically speaking, by barely twenty miles of winding country roads.
How did the island become divided in this way?
In ancient times the Greeks colonised the eastern
areas while the Elymians and Carthaginians
occupied most of the west, but Roman influences
eventually prevailed over the entire island. Syracuse,
the Greeks' great Sicilian city, dominated the landscape for centuries,
throughout the Byzantine period. It was the Arabs and Normans who changed
this with their focus on Palermo, which they made their capital. During
the Middle Ages Messina surpassed
Syracuse in importance, to be overtaken, in the eighteenth century,
The phrase "Two Sicilies" had little
to do with this. It came into use following the War
of the Vespers, when both the Aragonese dynasty
(at Palermo) and the Angevin one (at Naples) claimed
the Sicilian Crown, as there was not yet a kingdom "of Naples."
As early as the reign of Roger II the entire south
of Italy was simply the kingdom "of Sicily." Until 1861 the kingdom
that encompassed Sicily and all of southern Italy was technically the "Two
Sicilies," though until 1816 it actually had been two distinct states
with capitals at Naples and Palermo. Ah, the complexities of history...
Returning to the island of Sicily itself, it must be said, in fairness,
that its division is really little more than a microcosm of Italy's divisiveness
since "unification" around 1860. During the last part of the Second
World War (after September 1943), Italy became the only warring nation to
fight against itself, with Fascists killing partisans, and the political
effects of this are still felt today. With the new federalism there's also
a certain lingering ill-feeling between "northerners" and "southerners"
aggravated as the economic "divario" (differences in wealth
between Italy north and south) widens to an increasingly vast chasm. There's
no escaping it.
Unfortunately, Italians often take their own regionalist bigotries abroad, so even in America and
Australia you sometimes encounter the Catania-against-Palermo mentality or, more frequently,
the North-against-South thing dividing Milanese from Palermitans.
The autostrada crossing Sicily from east to west has facilitated closer
links between Palermo and Catania --now just over two hours away from each
other. A motorway linking Palermo with Messina results in similar driving
Catania has more industry and more large commercial firms than Palermo,
which is more of a cultural and political centre. Catania's population is
around 400,000. Palermo's is closer to a million, and it is the seat of
the Sicilian Regional Assembly, which governs the island with semi-automonous
authority. Traditionally, the western part of Sicily (west of Palermo) boasted
the island's chief viticultural region, and the Mafia's presence was more
strongly felt west of Enna. There are differences in cuisine and even in
the accent --Western is slower and gutteral, Eastern perkier and clearer.
This kind of thing has led to a number of entrenched and occasionally unpleasant
stereotypes: the lazy, corrupt Palermitan versus the honest, hard-working
Catanian. The open, cooperative Catanian versus the closed, suspicious Palermitan.
And, of course, the slender, stylish Catanian woman versus her
fat, tascia Palermitan sister. ("Tascia" is a Sicilian
word loosely translated "unsophisticated.") Ah, the complexities of simplistic
About the Author: Maria Luisa Romano has
written for various Italian magazines, including this one.