Sicily

The site of Sicily foreshadowed, long before man's advent on our globe, the mighty part that it would play in history. The Mediterranean had not then the aspect which it bears to-day. Across its surface stretched two isthmuses, one of which severed it from the Atlantic, and joined Gibraltar with Morocco; the other, a thousand miles to the eastward, divided it into two great basins, and formed between them a gigantic causeway, eighty miles in length, connecting Sicily and Tunis. Of this not only do geology and deep-sea soundings furnish ample proof, but the discovery in Sicily of many bones of extinct tropical animals shows that these creatures formerly made their way by land from Africa to southern Europe. A sinking of the earth-crust caused at last these two partitions to subside; and while the waves of the Atlantic rushed in through the opening now-known as the Straits of Gibraltar, the waters of the two interior basins also met and mingled over the sunken ridge which had divided them. Thus there appeared for the first time - although as yet unseen by any human eye - the noble spectacle of a united Mediterranean, linked at Gibraltar with the oceans of the outer world, and covering substantially the same area we have always known. Of the four termini of these submerged isthmuses three proved of great historical importance. The influence of Morocco only has been insignificant; but its huge vis--vis, Gibraltar, through the three great periods of its prominence, - Pagan, Arabic, and Christian, - has loomed successively on the horizon of the past as the Pillar of Hercules, the Mountain of the Moors, and the stupendous Fortress of Great Britain. Still more remarkable were the two extremities of the vanished isthmus which had stretched from Sicily to Africa. For near its southern end there rose, about the middle of the ninth century before Christ, - that is to say, one hundred years before the founding of Rome, - the famous Tyrian colony of Carthage, which flourished in unbroken glory and prosperity for seven hundred years, and during many centuries possessed such mastery of the sea, that its ambassadors boasted that the Romans could not even wash their hands in the Mediterranean without permission from the Carthaginians. Meanwhile, directly opposite to this superbly rich and powerful metropolis lay, at the other terminus of the sunken causeway, Trinacria or Sicily, which was not only the largest island of the Mediterranean, but also occupied its central point.

A Sicilian Youth, Grecian Type.

A Sicilian Youth, Grecian Type.

On The Coast Of Sicily.

On The Coast Of Sicily.

Accordingly, so long as the countries bordering on the Mediterranean constituted the whole of civilization, Sicily was the centre of the civilized world. How could it have been otherwise ? Its site was practically equidistant, eastward and westward, from both Spain and Egypt; northward and southward, from both Rome and Carthage. A strait but two miles wide divided it from Italy, of which it once had formed a part; and only fourscore miles of water rolled between its southern precipices and the sands of Africa. In fact, so tempting and convenient was this stepping-stone between the two great continents, that one might fancy a malicious deity had intentionally placed it there, as a perennial source of national contention. Moreover, as its classic name Trinacria denotes, Sicily was triangular.

A Sicilian Promontory.

A Sicilian Promontory.

Its ancient symbol was the head of Medusa, surrounded by three legs, indicative of the three extremities of the island.

A prettier representation of it would have been a splendid jewel with three facets, - one turned toward Europe, another toward Asia, and a third toward Africa. Such in reality was its situation; and each of these continents, looking toward the face confronting it, became enamored of its beauty, and sought to win the lovely prize behind it. Indeed, the history of Sicily for three thousand years is little save the record of her warlike suitors, all of whom, in their desperate struggles to possess her, often trampled her beneath their feet, and well-nigh caused her death from violence and loss of blood. No spot on earth has suffered more because of its desirable site and fatal gift of beauty. The number and variety of these conquerors are bewildering, but they at least attest the fascination of the object of their passion. Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Goths, Byzantines, Normans, Spaniards, French, and Italians have, during three millenniums, succeeded one another here; and all have left behind them traces of their sway, which render Sicily even now, despite her wretchedness and poverty, a land of wonderful attractiveness to thoughtful travelers. In fact, so interwoven with the history of Greece and Rome is this remarkable island of the Inland Sea, that Goethe rightly said of it: "Italy without Sicily leaves no image in the soul; Sicily is the Key to all".