Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and separated from the southwestern tip of mainland Italy by the narrow (under two nautical miles wide) Straits of Messina, has a typically sunny climate. The island is roughly triangular in shape and with adjacent small islands forms a region of Italy inhabited by six million people. Sicily measures 160 miles in length and varies in width from 30 miles at its western end to 110 miles in the east.
Located between the continents of Europe and Africa, the island of Sicily has been a historically significant crossroads for thousands of years. Sicily boasts a long, rich history, and diverse cultural heritage, due to the frequent occupation by foreign powers. Because of its important strategic position, midway between the Straits of Gibraltar and the Suez Canal, Sicily has been the site of meetings between many civilizations, in battle as well as peace, and each left traces of its culture and history. The Greeks arrived first, calling the island "Trinacria," referring to the island's triangular shape. The Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Germans, Spaniards, French and Austrians followed, all helping to shape Sicily's past.
When looking at a map of the Mediterranean Sea, many see Sicily as the ball at the "boot" of Italy. Historically, Sicily remains one of the most strategically vital locations in the world. The straits separating Sicily from Africa are a bottleneck. When the known civilized world was limited to the lands lining the Med, the boundaries were Phoenicia (modern day Lebanon), and the Straits of Gibraltar. Sicily was not only in the center, but divided "the world as the ancients knew it" into two. The ancient superpowers could settle for domination of one side of the sea or the other, but to control it all, they needed one thing -- Sicily.
Present-day Sicily reflects this rich heritage. Here, you can find catacombs, Roman amphitheaters, Greek temples, Norman castles, and Arab baths mixed among modern cities. Some claim that there are more Greek ruins here than there are in Greece, and more Norman castles than in Normandy. If you travel to the interior of the island, you can still experience rich culture and old-world charm of villages that remain largely untouched by the 20th century. Sicilians speak Italian and the Sicilian dialect -- a mix of Greek, Latin, Arabic, Spanish, and Italian. Many also speak English, German, or French. They are a very warm and hospitable people, particularly to those interested in learning their way of life and language, so do not hesitate to communicate with them. They are also very religious and celebrate many elaborate religious festivals and holidays. Each town has a patron saint, and Sicilians honor the saint's birthday with feasts, parades, and fireworks.