You May Not Know Why Sicily Matters

Immortalized by Lampedusa’s novel Il Gattopardo and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather trilogy, based on Mario Puzo’s homonymous work of fiction, Sicily is mostly known to the outside world for the mafia and the violence of organized crime, as well as the upheavals that came with the 19th century Risorgimento. Yet this island, the largest in the Mediterranean, is much more than these masterpieces purport it to be. The tide and ebb of civilization has shaped its peculiar culture and society, an island that has been what the “insular” adjective conveys: separated from other lands and peoples, or even averse to them, if not outright hostile. At the same time, as it has been on the path of Phoenicians and Greeks, Romans and Normans, Sicily has assimilated the culture of these passing nations, becoming richer in this traumatic process. As we know, invasion and conquest are seldom painless. Yet these unsought blows and attacks have turned this chunk of land surrounded by the most eventful sea in history into an endlessly fascinating southern gateway to Italy. Sicily: Culture and Conquest, an exhibition at the British Museum, opens tomorrow.

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