Juxtaposed: There’s always more to a place than the stereotypes we’ve heard before arriving or what easily meets the eye…
In this case, Sicily’s gruesome history has probably overshadowed the beauty of this part of Italy. Sicily has become synonymous with organized crime, specifically as the home to the Sicilian Mafia (called the Cosa Nostra).
But, that sorted history wasn’t what brought me to the subject of Sicily…
I became interested in Sicily on reading Springtime in Sicily by Melissa Kronenthal at The Traveler’s Lunchbox. Shortly after coming across the beautiful post, I was stuck in a monumentally long customs line waiting for US reentry at DFW airport next to a couple who were just returning from Sicily. Their enthusiastic recommendations and stories got me googling.
Mafia = Shit (according to Google Translate)
It’s hard to imagine that I could have missed the extent of the island’s infamous reputation, but it’s true. Of course, I knew the Mafia was from Italy. I also knew that Naples was a hot bed of mafiaism, but I didn’t know much more than that.
I also haven’t seen any of the Godfather movies all the way through. None of them. Nor did I ever watch the Sopranos.
Lest you think the Mafia is a thing of the past, rest assured it’s not. While it’s roots can be traced back to the rise of the citrus industry in the 1860s in Sicily, it has evolved over the years and is still active in Italy today.
According to recent reports by The Telegraph, Italy’s four mafia groups make an estimated annual profit of €100bn, which is about 7% of Italy’s GDP, and their estimated cash reserves of €65bn making them effectively “Italy’s biggest bank.”
And, Sicily made the news even last week not just for economic problems that the NY Times said “threaten to swamp Italy” and are the result of entrenched corruption, but also for a literary festival that was hosted as a means of giving residents a “voice in the fight against mafia.” The efforts of the individuals noted in the article to combat the mafia and their resulting need for long term police protection were eye opening.
In commemorating the 20th anniversary of the murder of the pioneering anti-mafia investigating magistrate, Giovanni Falcone, the current Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti stated that the mafia’s grip has been weakened, but they are far from done. He told the crowd that, “The whole country has to commit to the fight against the mafia, without deluding themselves that they are immune,” according to Mafia Today.
In that same account by Mafia Today, the article mentions a spot on a hillside where a “small outbuilding with the words ‘No Mafia’ painted in huge blue letters” still stands. It was the spot from which mobsters detonated the bomb that killed Giovanni Falcone, the pioneering prosecutor, and his wife on orders from the head of the organization.
Now both the man who order the hit and the man who detonated the bomb are now serving life sentences, but the message still stands strong in honor of Falcone as a reminder and a stark contrast to the rest of Silicy’s beauty.
Most people probably already know quite a bit about the gruesome history of the Mafia, so I’ll spare you the stories of intimidation and murder that are inevitably brought to mind when you hear the word.
Instead, I’ll leave you with some of the enticing reasons that I’ve discovered to visit Sicily:
- Almond-paste cookies called pasta di mandorle
- Ancient temples and hilltop towns
- Amazing citrus, including blood orange groves
- Beautiful beaches in and around Palermo
- Marsala wine tasting rooms with pairing suggestions
- Hiking most of the way up Mount Etna (more)
- Supporting the coalition of businesses that don’t pay protection money to the Mafia by traveling with Addiopizzo Travel
I’m confident there are many more reasons to visit… Sicily is part of Italy after all! If you still need to be persuaded , just check out Springtime in Sicily again.
Have you been to Sicily? Please tell us all about it in the comments!
Need More Information?
- Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia, by John Dickie (Winner of the Golden Dagger Award! Whatever that is! It definitely sounds fitting, right?)
- Springtime in Sicily by Melissa Kronenthal at The Traveler’s Lunchbox
- Mafia is Italy’s Largest Business, by The Telegraph
- A New Way to See Sicily by the NY Times (by supporting businesses that refuse to pay protection money!)
- Italy PM Urges War Against Mafia, by Mafia Today