THE Trinacria of the ancients, the island with the “three promontories,” is clearly a dependency of the Italian peninsula, from which it is separated by a narrow arm of’ the sea. The Strait of Messina, where narrowest, is not quite two miles in width. It can be easily crossed in barges, and, with the resources at our command, a bridge might easily be thrown across it, similar enterprises having succeeded elsewhere. It can hardly be doubted that before the close of this century either a tunnel or a bridge will join Sicily to the mainland, and human industry will thus restore in some way the isthmus which formerly joined the Cape of Faro to the Italian Aspromonte. We know nothing about the period when this rupture took place, but to judge from the ancient name of the straitHeptastadionit must have been much narrower in former times.
From an historical point of view Sicily may still be looked upon as a portion of the mainland, for the strait can be crossed almost as easily as a wide river. On the other hand, it enjoys all the advantages of a maritime position. Situate in the very centre of the Mediterranean, between the Tyrrhenian and the eastern basin, it commands all the commercial high-roads which lead from the Atlantic to the East. Its excellent harbours invite navigators to stay on its coasts ; its soil is exceedingly fertile; the most varied natural resources insure the existence of its inhabitants; and a genial climate promotes the development of life. Hardly a district of Europe appears to be in a more favourable position for supporting a dense population in comfort. Sicily, indeed, is more densely populated and wealthier than the neighbouring island of Sardinia or either of the Neapolitan provinces, the Campania alone excepted, and rivals in importance the provines of Northern Italy.
Sicily, whenever it has been allowed to rejoice in the possession of peace and freedom, has always recovered with wonderful rapidity ; and it would certainly now be one of the most prosperous countries if wars had not so frequently devastated it, and the yoke of foreign oppressors had not weighed so heavily upon it.
The triangular island of Sicily would possess great regularity of structure if it were not for the hold mass of Mount Etna, which rises above the shores of the Ionian Sea at the entrance of the Strait of Messina. From its base to the summit of its crater, that huge protuberance forms a region apart, differing from the rest of Sicily not only geologically, but also with respect to its products, cultivation, and inhabitants.
Ancient mariners mostly looked upon the Sicilian volcano as the highest mountain in the world ; nor did they err much as respects the world known to them, for only at the two extremities of the Mediterranean, in Spain and Syria, do w e meet with mountains exceeding this one in height ; and Mount Etna is not only remarkable from its isolated position, but likewise by the beauty of its contours, the lurid sheen of its incandescent lavas, and the column of smoke rising from its summit. From whatever side we approach Sicily, its snowy head is seen rising high above all the surrounding mountains. Its position in the very centre of the Mediterranean contributed in no small measure to secure to it a’ pre-eminence amongst mountains. It was looked upon as the ” pillar of the heavens,” and at a later epoch the Arabs only spoke of it as el Jebel, ” the mountain,” which has been corrupted by the people dwelling near it into a Mongibello.”
The mean slopes of Mount Etna, prolonged as they are by streams of lava extending in every direction, are very gentle, and on looking at a profile of this mountain it will hardly be believed that its aspect is so majestic. It occupies, in fact, an area of no less than 460 square miles, and its base has a development of about 80 miles. The whole of this space is bounded by the sea, and by the valleys of the Alcautara and Simeto. A saddle, only 2,820 feet in height, connects it in the north-west with the mountain system of the remainder of Italy . Small cones of eruption are met with beyond the mass of the volcano to the north of the Alcantara, and streams of lava having filled up the ancient valley of the Simeto, that river was forced to excavate itself another bed through rocks of basalt, and now descends to the sea in rapids and cascades.
An enormous hollow, covering an area of ten square miles, and more than 3,000 feet in depth, occupies a portion of the western slope of the volcano. This is the Val di Bove, a vast amphitheatre of explosion, the bottom of which is dotted over with subsidiary craters, and which rises in gigantic steps, over which, when the mountain is in a state of eruption, pour fiery cascades of lava. L3-ell has shown that this Val di Bove is the ancient crater of Mount Etna, but that, at some period not known to us, the existing terminal vent opened a couple of miles farther west. The steep sides of the Val di Bove enable us to gain a considerable insight into the history of the volcano, for the various layers of lava may be studied there at leisure. The cliffs upon which stands the town of Aci Beale afford a similar opportunity for embracing at one glance a long period of its history. These cliffs, over 300 feet in height, consist of seven distinct lavers of lava, successively poured forth from the bowels of Mount Etna. Etch layer consists nearly throughout of a compact mass, affording no hold for the roots of plants, but their surfaces have invariably been converted into tufa, or even mould, owing to atmospheric agencies which operated for centuries after each eruption. It has likewise been proved not only that these cliffs increased in height in consequence of successive eruptions, but that they were also repeatedly upheaved from below. Lines of erosion resulting from the action of the waves can be distinctly traced at various elevations above the present level of the Mediterranean. The lavas, too, have undergone a change of structure since they were poured forth, as is proved by beautiful caverns enclosed by prismatic columns of basalt, and by the islet of the Cyclops, near Aci Trezza.
During the last two thousand years Mount Etna has had more than a hundred eruptions, some of them continuing for a number of years. Hitherto it has not been possible to trace any regularity in these eruptions. They appear to occur at irregular intervals, and the quantity of lava poured forth from the principal or any subsidiary cone varies exceedingly. The most considerable stream of lava of which we have any record was that which overwhelmed the city of Catania in 1669. It first converted the fields of Nicolosi into a fiery lake, then enveloped a portion of the hill of Monpilieri, which for a time arrested its progress, and finally divided into three separate streams, the principal of which descended upon Catania. It swept away a part of that town, filled up its port, and formed a promontory in its stead. The quantity of lava poured forth on that occasion has been estimated at 3,332 millions of cubic feet ; and nearly 40 square miles of fertile land, supporting a population of 20.000 souls, were converted into a stony waste. The double cone of Monti Rossi, with its beautiful crater now grown over with golden-flowered broom, was formed by the ashes ejected during that great eruption. More than 700 subsidiary cones, similar to the Monti Rossi, are scattered over the exterior slopes of Mount Etna, and hear witness to as many eruptions. The most ancient amongst them have been nearly obliterated in the course of ages, or buried beneath streams of lava, but the others still retain their conical shape, and rise to a height of many hundred feet. Several amongst them are now covered with forests, and the craters of others have been converted into gardendelightful cup-shaped hollows, where tillas shine like gems set in verdure.
Most of these subsidiary cones lie at an elevation of between 3,300 and 6,300 feet above the sea, and it is there the internal forces make themselves most strongly felt. As a rule the subterranean activity is less violent near the summit, and during most of the eruptions the great terminal crater merely serves as a vent, through which the aqueous vapours and gases make their escape. Fumaroles surrounding it convert the soil into a kind of’ pap, and the substances which escape from them streak the scoriae with brilliant coloursscarlet, yellow, and emerald green. The internal heat makes itself felt on many parts of the exterior slopes. It converts loose rocks into a compact mass, far less difficult to climb than are the loose cinders of Mount Vesuvius. Travellers ascending the mountain need fear nothing from volcanic bombs. Showers of stone are occasionally ejected from the principal vent, but this is quite an exceptional occurrence. If it were not so, the small structure above the precipices of the Val di Bove, which dates from the time of the Romans, and is known as the ” Philosopher’s Tower,” would long ago have been buried beneath débris. A meteorological observatory might therefore be established with safety on the summit of this mountain, and no better station could be found for giving warning of approaching storms.
The summit of Mount Etna, 10,866 feet in height, does not penetrate the zone of perennial snow, and the heat emitted from the subterranean focus soon melts the incipient glaciers which accumulate in hollows. Nevertheless the upper half of the mountain is covered with a shroud of white during a great part of the year. It might be imagined that the snow and copious rains would give birth to numerous rivulets- descending from the slopes of the volcano ; but the small stones and cinders which cover the solid beds of lava promptly absorb all moisture, and springs are met with only in a few favoured spots. They are abundant on the lower slopes, or in the immediate vicinity of the sea. One of’ these is the fountain of .Acis, which issues from the chaos of rocks which Polyphemus is said to have hurled at the ships of sage Ulysses. Another gives birth to the river Amenano, which rises in the town of Catania, and hastens in silvery cascades towards its port. When we look at these clear springs in the midst of black sands and burnt rocks we are able to comprehend the fancy of the ancient Greeks, who regarded them as divine beings, in whose honour they struck medals and raised statues.
Though running streams are scarcely met with on the slopes of Mount Etna, its cinders retain a sufficient quantity of moisture to support a luxuriant vegetation. The mountain is clad with verdure except where the surface of the lava is too compact to be penetrated by the roots of plants. Only the highest regions, which are covered with snow during the greater part of the year, are barren. It is a remarkable fact that the flora of the Alps should not be met with on Mount Etna, although the temperature suits it exactly.
Formerly the volcano was surrounded by a belt of forests occupying the zone between the cultivated lands and the region of snow and cinders. Such is the case no longer. On the southern slope, which is that usually ascended by tourists, there are no forests at all, and only the trunk of some ancient oak is occasionally met with. On the other slopes groves of trees are more frequent, particularly in the north, where there remain a few lofty trees, which impart quite an alpine character to the scenery. But the wood-cutters prosecute their work of extermination without mercy, and it is to be feared that the time is not very distant when even the last vestiges of the ancient forests will have disappeared. The magnificent chestnuts on the western slopes, amongst which could be admired until recently the “tree of the hundred horses,” bear witness to the astonishing fertility of the lava. If the cultivators of the soil only desired it, a few years would suffice to restore to Mount Etna its ancient covering of foliage.
The cultivated zone occupying the lower slopes of the mountains presents in many places the appearance of a beautiful garden. There are groves of olive, orange, lemon, and other fruit trees, in the midst of which rise clumps of palms, and villas, churches, and monasteries peep out from this mass of verdure. The fertility of the soil is so great that it supports a population three or four times more numerous than that in any other part of Italy. More than 300,000 inhabitants dwell on the slopes of a mountain which might be supposed to inspire terror, and which actually bursts at intervals, burying fertile fields beneath a fiery deluge. Town succeeds town along its base like pearls in a necklace, and when a stream of lava effects a breach in this chain of human habitations it is closed up again as soon as the lava has had time to cool. From the rim of the crater the mountain climber looks down with astonishment upon these human ant-hills. The con-centric zones of houses and verdure contrast curiously with the snows and ashes occupying the centre of the picture, and with the barren limestone rocks beyond the Simeto. And this is only a small portion of the vast and marvellous prospect, embracing a radius of 124 miles. Well may the beholder be enchanted by the unrivalled spectacle of three seas, of a deeper blue than the skies, washing the shores of Sicily, of Calabria, and of the AEolian islands.
Mount Pelorus, which forms a continuation of the chain of the Aspromonte of Calabria, is of very inferior height to Mount Etna, but it had existed for ages when the space now occupied by the volcano was only a bay of the sea. It was formerly believed that a crater existed on the highest summit of Pelorus dedicated to Neptune, and now to the ” Mother of God,” or Diana Mare (3,600 feet), but such is not the case. These mountains consist of primitive and transition rocks, with beds of limestone and marble on their flanks. They first follow the coast of the Ionian Sea, where they form numerous steep promontories, and then, turning abruptly towards the west, run parallel with that of the AEolian Sea. Their culminating point, near the centre, is known as Madonia (6,336 feet), and the magnificent forests which still clothe it impart to that part of the island quite a northern aspect, and we might almost fancy ourselves in the Apennines or Maritime Alps. Limestone promontories of the most varied profile advance into the blue waters of the sea, and render this coast one of the most beautiful of the Mediterranean. We are seized with admiration when we behold the enormous quadrangular block of Cefalu, the more undulating bill of Termini, the vertical masses of Coltafano, and above all, near Palermo, the natural fortress of Monte Pellegrino (1,970 feet), an almost inaccessible rock, upon which Hamilcar Barca resisted for three years the efforts of a Roman army to dislodge him. Monte San Giuliano (2,300 feet), an almost isolated limestone summit, terminates this chain in the west. It is the Eryx of the ancients, who dedicated it to Venus.
The mountains which branch off from this main chain towards the south gradually decrease in height as they approach the sea. The principal slopes of the island descend towards the Ionian and Sicilian Seas, and all its perennial riversthe Platani, Salso, and Simetoflow in these directions. The rivers on the northern slope are mere fumare, formidable after heavy rains, but lost in beds of shingle during the dry season. The lakes and swamps of the island are likewise confined to the southern slope of the mountains. Amongst them are the pantani, and the Lake, or biriere, of Lentini, which is the most extensive sheet of water in Sicily ; the Lake of Pergusa, or Enna, formerly surrounded by flowery meadows in which Proserpine was seized by Pluto ; the biriere of Terranova; and several marshy tracts, the remains of ancient bays of the sea. This southern coast of the island contrasts most unfavourably with the northern, for, in the place of picturesque promontories of the most varied outline, we meet with a monotonous sandy shore, devoid of all shade. Natural harbours are scarce there, and during the winter storms vessels frequenting it are exposed to much danger.
The southern slope of Sicily, to the south of the Madonia, consists of tertiary and more recent rocks, abounding in fossil shells mostly belonging to species still living in the neighbouring sea. In the hills to the south of Catania these tertiary rocks alternate with strata of volcanic origin, which are evidently derived from submarine eruptions. This process is still going ou between Girgenti and the island of Pantellaria, where the submarine volcano of Giulia or Ferdinandea occasionally rises above the surface of the sea. It was seen in 1801, and thirty years later it had another eruption, resulting in the formation of an island four miles in circumference, which was examined by Jussieu and Constant Prévost. In 1863 it appeared for the third time. But the waves of the sea have always washed away the ashes and cinders ejected on these occasions, spreading them in regular layers over the bottom of the sea, and thus producing an alternation of strata similar to that observed at Catania. In 1840 the summit of this submarine volcano was covered with only six feet of water, but recently no soundings were obtained at a depth of fifty fathoms.
This submarine volcano is not the only witness to the activity of subterranean forces in Southern Italy. We meet there with mineral springs discharging carbonic acid and other gases, which prove fatal to the smaller animals venturing within their influence, and with a naphtha lake near Palagonia, from which escape, likewise, irrespirable gases. A similar phenomenon may he witnessed in connection with the Lake of Pergusa, which occupies an ancient crater about four miles in circumference, and usually abounds in tench and eels. From time to time, however, an escape of poisonous gases appears to take place hom the bottom of the lake, which kills the fish, whose carcasses rise to the surface. Another of these salses has made its appearance farther west, near the Palazzo Adriano, and, indeed, the whole of underground Sicily appears to be in a state of chemical effervescence.
Next to Mount Etna the great centre of volcanic activity in Sicily appears to be near Girgenti, at a place known as the Maccalubas. The aspect of this spot changes with the seasons. In summer bubbles of gas escape from small craters filled with liquid mud, which occasionally overflows, and runs down the exterior slopes. The rains of winter almost obliterate these miniature volcanoes. and the plain is then converted into one mass of mud, from which the gases escape, At the beginning of this century the soil was occasionally shaken by earthquakes, and on these occasions jets of mud and stones were ejected to a height of ten or twenty yards. The Maccalubas appear now to be in a state of quiescence, for these mud volcanoes also seem to have their regular periods of rest and activity.
The deposits of sulphur, which constitute one of the riches of Sicily, undoubtedly owe their existence to these subterranean lakes of seething lava. These sulphur beds are met with in the tertiary strata extending from Centorbi to Cattolica, in the province of Girgenti. They date from the epoch of the Upper Miocene, and are deposited upon lavers of fossil infusoria exhaling a bituminous odour. Geologists are not yet agreed on the origin of these sulphur beds, but it is most likely that they are derived from sulphate of lime carried to the surface by hot springs. In the same formation beds of gypsum and of rock-salt are met with, and the latter may frequently be traced from a saline effervescence known as ocehi di sale (” eyes of salt “).
Sicily, like Greece, enjoys one of the happiest climates. The heat of summer is tempered by sea breezes which blow regularly during the hottest part of each day. The cold of winter would not be felt at all if it were not for the total absence of every comfort in the houses, for ice is not known, and snow exceedingly rare. The autumn rains are abundant, but there are many fine days even during that season. The prevailing winds from the north and west are salubrious, but the sirocco, which usually blows towards the south-east, is deadly, especially when it reaches the northern coast. It generally blows for three or four days, and during that time no one thinks of clarifying wine, salting meat, or painting houses or furniture. This wind is the great drawback to the climate. In some parts of Sicily the exhalations from the swamps are dangerous, but this is entirely the fault of man. It is owing to his neglect that Agosta and Syracuse suffer from fevers, and that death forbids the stranger to approach the ruins of ancient Himera.
Temperature and moisture impart to the vegetation of the plains and lower valleys a semi-tropical aspect. Many plants of Asia and Africa have become acclimatized in Sicily. Groups of date-palms are seen in the gardens, and the plains around Sciacca, almost African in their appearance, abound in groves of dwarf palms, or giummare , to which ancient Selinus was indebted for its epithet of Palmosa. Cotton grows on the slopes of the hills up to a height of 600 feet above the sea ; bananas, sugar-cane, and bamboos do not require the shelter of greenhouses ; the Victoria regia covers the ponds with its huge leaves and flowers ; the papyrus of the Nile, which is not known anywhere else in Europe, chokes up the bed of the Anapo, near Syracuse : formerly it grew also in the Oreto, near Palermo, but it does so no longer. The cactus of Barbary (Cactus opuntia) has become the most characteristic plant of the coast districts of Sicily, and is rapidly covering the most unpromising beds of lava. These and other plants flourish most luxuriantly on the southern slopes of Mount Etna, where the orange-tree bears fruit at a height of 1,700 feet, and the larch ascends even to 7,400 feet. These slopes facing the African sun are the hottest spots in Europe, for the volcano shelters them from the winds of the north, whilst its dark-coloured scoriae and cinders absorb the rays of the mid-day sun.
Those portions of Sicily which are clothed with trees or shrubs are always green, for orange-trees, olive-trees. carob-trees, laurels, mastic-trees, tamarisks, cypresses, and pines retain their verdure even in winter, when nature wears a desolate aspect. in our own latitudes. There is no ” season,” so to say, for with a little care all kinds of vegetables can be had throughout the year. The gardens around Syracuse are famous above all others, because of the striking manner in which they contrast with the naked rocks surrounding them. The most delightful amongst them is the Intagliatella, or Latomia de’ Greet’, which occupies an old quarry where Greek slaves dressed the stones used in erecting the palaces of Syracuse. The vegetation there is most luxuriant ; the trunks of the trees rise above masses of shrubs, their branches are covered with creeping plants, flowers and ripening fruit cover the paths, and birds without number sing in the foliage. This earthly paradise is surrounded by precipitous walls of rock covered with or bare and white as on the day when Athenian slaves were at work there.
Sicily lies on the high-road of all the nations who ever disputed the command of the Mediterranean, and its population consequently consists of a mixture of the most heterogeneous elements. Irrespectively of Sicani, Siculi, and other aboriginal nations, whose position amongst the European tinnily is uncertain, but who probably spoke a language akin to that of the Latins, we know that Phoenicians and Carthaginians successively settled on its shores, and that the Greeks were almost as numerous there as in their native country. Twenty-five centuries have passed since the Greeks founded their first colony, Naxos, at the foot of Mount Etna. Soon afterwards Syracuse, Leontini. Catania, Megara Hyblaea, Messina, and other colonies sprang into existence, until the whole of the littoral region was in the hands of the Greeks, the native populations being pushed back into the interior. In Sicily the Greek met with the same climate, and with rocks and mountains similar in aspect to those of his native home. The ” Marmorean ” port and the wide bay of Syracuse, the acropolis and Mount Hybla, do they not recall Attica or the Peloponnesus ? The fountain of Arethusa, on the island of Ortygia, which is supplied through underground channels, reminds us of the fountain of Erasinos and of many others in Hellas, which find their way through fissures in the limestone rocks to the seashore. The Syracusans said that the river Alpheus, enamoured of the nymph Arethusa, did not mingle its waters with those of the Ionian, but found its way through subterranean channels to the coast of Sicily, where it rose again at the side of the fountain dedicated to the object of his adoration, bringing the flowers and fruits of beloved Greece. This legend bears testimony to the great love which the Greek bore his native land, whose very fountains and plants were supposed to follow him into his new home.
If we may judge from the number of inhabitants with which the principal towns were credited at that time, Sicily must have had a population of several millions of Greeks. The Carthaginian merchants and soldiers, on the other hand, though they were the masters of portions of the island for two or three centuries, never settled upon it, and only a few walls, coins, and inscriptions bear witness now of their ever having been present. It has been very judiciously remarked by M. Dennis that the most striking evidence of their reign is presented in the desolate sites of the cities of Himera and Minus. At the same time we must not forget that the Carthaginians, by intermingling with the existing population, materially affected the ulterior destinies of the island. The Romans, who held Sicily for nearly seven centuries, did so in a still higher degree. Vandals and Goths likewise left traces behind them. The Saracens, themselves a mixed race, imparted their Southern impetuosity to the Sicilians, whilst their conquerors, the Norma us, endowed them with the daring and indomitable courage which at that period animated these sons of the North. In 1071, when the Norm sus laid siege to Palermo, no less than five languages were spoken on the island, viz. Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and vulgar Sicilian. But Arabic was the tongue of the civilised inhabitants, and even during the dominion of the Normans inscriptions upon palaces and churches were written in it. It was at the court of King Roger that Edrisi wrote his “Geography,” one of the great monuments of science. In 1223 the last Arabs were made to emigrate to Naples, but by that time much Arab blood already flowed through the veins of the inhabitants.
Later on, the character of the population was still further modified by French, Germans, Spaniards, and Aragonite, and all this helped to make them a people differing in appearance, manners, habits, and feelings from their Italian neighbours. These islanders look upon every inhabit in t. of the mainland as a foreigner. The absence of roads on the island enabled the different groups of its population to maintain their distinct idioms and character during a very long period. The Lombards whom the Romans transplanted to Benevento and Palermo spoke their native dialect long after it had become extinct in Lombardy. Even now there are about 50,000 Sicilians who speak this ancient Lombard tongue. At San Fratello, on a steep hill on the northern coast, this idiom is spoken with the greatest, purity. Nor has the Italian wholly supplanted the vulgar Sicilian in the interior of the island. We meet with many Greek and Arab words. One of the most curious words is that of sal, which is applied to various districts of Sicily, and is supposed to have been derived from vali, the Arab term for ” governor.” The Sicilian idiom is less sonorous than the Italian. Vowels standing between consonants are frequently suppressed, and the o, and even the a and are changed into too which renders the speech hard and indistinct. The language lends itself, however, admirably to poetry, and the Sicilian popular songs are quite equal in natural grace and delicacy to the much-admired rispetti of Tuscany.
Of all the emigrants mho have settled on the island the Albanians alone have not become merged in the general population. Locally known as Greci, they still form separate communities, speaking their own language and observing special religious rites, in several of the towns of the interior, and more especially at Piana de’ Greci, which occupies a commanding hill to the south of Palermo. Nor is the fusion amongst the other races as complete as it appears to be at the first glance. The population around Mount Etna, who are, perhaps, more purely Greek in blood than the Greeks themselves, are noted for their grace, gaiety, and sweetness of disposition. They are the most intelligent portion of the population of Sicily. Those of Trapani and San Giuliani are said to be the best-looking, and their women delight the stranger by the regularity and beauty of their features. The Palermitans, on the other hand, in whose veins flows much Arab blood, are for the most part unprepossessing in their appearance. They open their bouse but rarely to strangers, and jealously shut up their w omen in its most retired part.
The most ferocious usages of war, piracy, and brigandage have kept their ground longer at Palermo and its environs than anywhere else. The laws of the ourerta, or “men of heart,” make vengeance a duty. A chi ti toglie il pane, e tu toglili la vita ! (” Take the life of him who has taken your bread .”) is its fundamental principle ; but in practice Palermitan vengeance is far from possessing the simplicity of the Corsican vendetta, for it is complicated by the most atrocious cruelties. No less than four or five thousand Palermitans are said to be affiliated to the secret league of the maffia, whose members subsist upon every kind of roguery. Up to l865 the brigands were masters in the environs of that town. They virtually laid siege to the town, separating it from its more distant suburbs. Strangers were afraid to leave lest they should be murdered or captured by bandits ; and no fariner could harvest his corn or olives, or shear his sheep, without paying toll to these highwaymen. More than ten years have passed since then, but in spite of measures of exceptional severity the maffia still exists.
The history of this association, which dates its origin back to the time of the Norman kings, remains yet to be written. It has always flourished most in time of political troubles, and consequent misery. No doubt things have grown worse in the course of the last twenty years ; taxes have been increased, the conscription established, and many abrupt changes, such as are inseparable from a new political regimen, have been introduced. The people, accustomed to put up with ancient abuses, have not vet learnt to bear the burdens imposed in connection with the annexation of the island to the kingdom of Italy. Nevertheless the Sicilians grow more Italian from day to day. Community of language and of interests attaches the island to the peninsula, and the time is not far distant when both countries will gravitate in the same orbit. Italy is most highly interested in establishing feelings of friendship with the inhabitants of the island, and in developing its resources. The rapid increase of the population, which is said to have tripled since 1734, bears witness to the great natural riches of the country ; and what might not be achieved if the barbarous processes now in force there were superseded by the scientific methods of our own time ?
Sicily was the favourite haunt of Ceres, and in the plain of Catania this beneficent goddess taught man the art of cultivating the soil. The Sicilians have not forgotten this teaching, for nearly half the area is covered with corn-fields ; but they have not improved their system of cultivation since those fabulous times, and improvements can hardly be effected as long as the restrictions imposed by the feudal tenure introduced by the Normans are allowed to exist. The agricultural implements are of a primitive kind, manure is hardly known, and the fate of the crops depends entirely upon nature. When travelling through the country districts of Sicily, we are struck by not meeting with isolated houses. There are no villages, for all the cultivators of the soil live in towns, and are content to travel daily to their fields, which are occasionally at a distance of six miles. Sometimes they pass the night there, in a cavern or a ditch covered with boughs, and at harvest-time the labourers sleep in improvised sheds. This absence of human habitations imparts an air of solemn sadness to vast corn-fields covering valleys and slopes, and we almost fancy we are wandering through a deserted country, and wonder for whose benefit the crops are ripening.
Corn-fields cover a greater area than that devoted to the cultivation of all other objects put together ; nevertheless the latter articles represent a higher pecuniary value. The orchards, Vineyards, and gardens near the towns are a far greater source of wealth than the distant corn-fields. In former times wheat was the principal article of export ; now Sicily is no longer a granary, but promises to become a vast emporium of fruit. Even now the crop of oranges grown there, which consists of seven kinds, subdivided into four hundred varieties, represents a value of X2,000,000 a year. The marvellous gardens which surround Palermo are steadily increasing at the expense of the ancient plantations of ash, and ascend the hills to a height of 1,150 feet. Hundreds of millions of oranges are exported annually to Continental Europe, England, and America, and the inferior sorts are converted into essential oils, citric acid, or citrate of lime. The last is used in printing stuffs, and Sicily enjoys a monopoly in its manufacture.
Sicily likewise occupies a foremost place as a vine-growing country, and supplies more than a fourth of the wine produced throughout Italy. The cultivation of the Nine, which is carried on to a large extent by foreigners, is much better understood there than on the neighbouring peninsula, and the wines exported from Marsala, Syracuse, Alcamo, and Milazzo are justly held in high estimation. Excellent wine is also grown on the southern and western slopes of Mount Etna, to which the heat of the sun imparts much fire. England and non-Italian Europe are the great consumers of the wines of Sicily, as they are of its oils, almonds, cotton, saffron, sumach, and manna, extracted, like that of the Calabrias, from a kind of ash. Raw silk, which Sicily was the first to produce in Europe, is like-wise exported in considerable quantities.
Sulphur is the great mineral product of the island. The beds vary much in richness, but even where they contain only five or six per cent. a light brought to the walls of the mine will cause the sulphur to boil like pitch. The blocks extracted from the mine are piled up in the open air, where they remain exposed to the destructive action of the atmosphere. The fragments are then heaped up over the flame of a furnace, which causes the stones to split, the melted sulphur flowing into moulds placed beneath. By this primitive process only two-thirds of the sulphur contained in the rock are extracted, but it proves nevertheless most remunerative. About 200,000 tons of sulphur, or more than two-thirds of the sulphur required for manufacturing purposes throughout Europe, are annually exported from Sicily, and the know n deposits of the island have been computed to contain from 40,000,000 to 50,000.000 tons. To the north of Girgenti and in other parts of Sicily sulphureous plaster has been used in the construction of the houses, and the atmosphere there is at all times impregnated with an odour of sulphur.
Lock-salt is met with in the same formations as the sulphur, and in quantities almost inexhaustible, but salt is not a rare article, and even the Sicilians prefer to gather it from the salt swamps extending along the coast, the most productive of which are near Trapani, at the western extremity of the island. At the same spot the sea yields the best coral of Sicily. The tunny fishery is carried on mostly in the great bays between Trapani and Palermo, while most of the sword-fish are captured in the Strait of Messina. The seas of Sicily abound in fish, and the islanders boast of being the most expert fishermen of the Western Mediterranean.
Until recently communications in Sicily were kept up almost exclusively by sea. In 1866 the only carriage road of the island, which connects Messina with Palermo, was hardly made use of by travellers, and even now the most important mines of sulphur and salt communicate with the seashore only by mule-paths ; and the inhabitants are actually opposed to the construction of roads, from fear of their interfering with the existing modes of transport. The road which connects the harbour of Terianova with Caltanissetta has been under construction for twenty years, although it is the only one which joins the interior of the country to the sea-coast. Railways to some extent supply this deficiency of roads, but are being built very slowly, hardly more than 250 miles being at present open for traffic.
Palermo the “happy,” the capital of Sicily, is one of the great towns of Italy. At the time of the Arabs it surpassed all towns of the peninsula in population, but at present, though increasing rapidly, it yields to Naples, Milan. and Rome. No other town of Europe can boast of an equally delicious climate, nor is any fairer to look upon from a distance. Bold barren mountains enclose a marvellous garden. the famous “shell of gold” (conca d oro), from the midst of which rise towers and domes, palms with fan-shaped leaves, and pines, commanded in the south by the huge ecclesiastical edifices of Monreale. Termini is the only city of Sicily which rivals Palmero in the beauty of its site, and it truly merits its epithet of 8ple/t disci nu .
But the beauty of the country contrasts most painfully with the misery and filth reigning in most of the quarters of the capital. Palermo has its sumptuous edifices. It boasts of a cathedral lavishly decorated ; its royal place and palatine chapel, covered with mosaics, and harmoniously combining the beauties of Byzantine, Moorish, and Roman art, are unique of their kind ; the church of Monreale, in one of its suburbs, may challenge Ravenna by the number of its mosaics. There are Moorish palaces, a few modern monuments, and two broad streets, which a Spanish governor had made in the shape of a cross. But, besides these, ne only meet with dark and narrow streets and wretched tenements, the windows of which are stuffed with rags. Down to a recent period Palermo was undeserving its Greek name of “Port of all Nations.” Enclosed within mountains, and having no communications with the interior, its commerce was merely local, and its exports were limited to the produce of its fisheries and of its gardens. Though far more populous than Genoa, its commerce is only half that of the Ligurian city, but it is rapidly on the increase.
Trapani, a colony of the Carthaginians like Palermo, and Marsala, so famous for its wines, at the western extremity of the island, are proportionately far busier than the capital. Trapani, built on a sickle-shaped promontory, carries on a lively trade. The salt marshes near it are amongst the most productive in all Italy tunny, coral, and sponge fishing is carried on ; and the artisans of the town are skilled as weavers, masons, and jewellers. The harbour is one of the best in Italy ; the roadstead is well sheltered by the outlying AEgadian Islands; and the ambition of the inhabitants, who look forward to a time when Trapani will be the principal emporium for the trade with Tunis, is likely to be realized on the completion of a railway to Messina. The harbour of Mazzara, the outlet for the produce of the inland towns of Castelvetrano and Salemi, lies closer to Tunis, but its shelter is indifferent. As to Marsalathe “Marsed Allah,” or God’s haven, of the Arabs its port was filled up by Charles V., and has only recently be, n reconstructed. It is, however, not of sufficient depth for large vessels, and only salt and wine are exported from it to France and England. Marsala occupies the site of the ancient city of Lilybaeum, which had a population of 900,000 souls when Diodorus Siculus wrote his Geography. It has recently become famous in consequence of the landing there of Garibaldi and his thousand followers in 1860, and its being the spot from which they entered upon the triumphant march which ended in the battle of the Volturno and the capture of Gaeta.
Messina the “noble ” is the great commercial centre of Sicily, and the only port of that island where vessels of all nations meet. Messina is a stage on the ocean high-roads which join or connect Western Europe and the Levant. Its roadstead is one of the safest, and vessels in distress are certain to find protection there. Moreover, vessels coming from the Tyrrhenian, and fearful of encountering the dangerous currents of the strait during a storm, may easily find shelter at Milazzo, to the north of’ it. The port of Messina is formed by a sickle-shaped tongue of land, making a natural breakwater.There are few cities in Europe which are more exposed to the destructive action of earthquakes than Messina, and the traces of the great shock of 1783, which swamped the vessels in the harbour, undermined the p daces along the seashore, and caused the death of’ more than a thousand persons, have not yet entirely disappeared.
Catania, the sub-Etnean, as its Greek name implies, is menaced not only by earthquakes, but also by volcanic eruptions. It, too, enjoys a high amount of commercial prosperity, and exports the surplus produce of the towns situated at the foot of the volcano, among which are Acireale, with its orange groves; Giarre, with its dusty streets ; Paterno, abounding in thermal springs ; Aderno, on the summit of a rock of lava ; Bronte, at the junction of two streams of scoriae ; and Randazza, commanded by an ancient Norman castle. Catania also monopolizes the export of the produce of the inland districts of Eastern Sicily ; it is the great railway centre of the island, and several carriage roads converge upon it. Its port has grown too small for the business carried on there, and it is proposed to enlarge it by means of piers and breakwaters.
It is quite natural that on an island, no locality of which is more than forty miles from the sea, all great towns should be met with on the coast, where there are greater facilities for commerce. Still a few- centres of population sprang up in the interior, either in the midst of the most fertile districts or at the crossings of the most-frequented lines of communication. Nicosia, the Lombard city, is thus a natural place of passage between Catania and the northern coast of the island. Corleone occupies a similar position with respect to Palermo and the African slope of the island. Castro Giovanni, the ancient Enna, likewise occupies a privileged position, for it stands on an elevated plateau in the very centre of the island : a large stone near it is said by the inhabitant` to be an ancient altar of Ceres. Piazza Armerina l’opulentissime, and Caltagirone, surnamed la gratissima on account of the fertility of its fields, are both populous towns, which carry on a considerable commerce through Terranova, in the building of which the stones of the old temples of Gela have been utilised. Caltanissetta, farther to the west, and its neighbour Canicatti, export their produce through the port of Licata.
In the southeastern corner of Sicily there are likewise several inland towns of some importance, amongst which Ragusa and Modica are the most considerable. Comiso, an industrious place, lies farther to the west, and is surrounded by cotton plantations. The valley of the Hipparis, sung by Pindar, separates it from Vittoria, the saline plains of which furnish much of the soda exported to Marseilles. Nobs, like most towns in that part of Sicily, is at some distance from the coast, but its twin city, Avola, stands upon the shore of the Ionian Sea. Noto and Avola were both overthrown by the earthquake of 1693, and have been rebuilt with geometrical regularity near their former sites. The fields of’ Avola, though not very fertile by nature, are amongst the best cultivated of the island, and it is there only that the production of the sugar-cane has attained to any importance.
On the northern slope of the hills forming the back-bone of the island there are several other towns inhabited by the agricultural population. Lentini, the ancient Leontini, which boasts of being the oldest city in the island, is at pre-sent only a poor place, having been wholly rebuilt since the earthquake of 1G93. Militello has been restored since the same epoch, and Graminicheli was founded in the eighteenth century to afford a shelter for the inhabitants of Occhiala, which was destroyed by an earthquake. Vizzini and Licodia di Vizzini are remarkable on account of the beds of lava near them, which alternate with layers of marine fossils, and Mineo stands near a small crater of the swamp of Palici. The popular songs of Mineo are famous throughout Sicily. The marvellous ” stone of poetry” is shown near it, and all those who kiss it are said to become poets.
Southern Sicily is poor in natural ports, and formerly, along the whole of that part of the coast which faces Africa, there were only open roadsteads and beaches. On the Ionian coast, however, two excellent harbours are met with, viz. those of Agosta and Syracuse, which are very much like each other in outline and general features. Agosta, or Augusta, the successor of the Greek city of Megara Hyblaea, is now nothing more than a fortress besieged by fever. Syracuse, the ancient city of the Dorians, and at one time the most populous and wealthy city of the Mediterranean, has been reduced to a simple provincial capital. That city, whose inhabitants even during the last century celebrated their great victory over the Athenians, is now hardly more than a heap of ruins. Its ” marble port,” formerly surrounded by statues, is now frequented only by small boats, and its great harbour, large enough for contending squadrons, lies deserted. All that remains of it is contained in the small island of Ortygia, separated from the mainland by fortifications, a ditch, and the swamps of Syraea. The vast peninsula of limestone formerly occupied by the city is at pre-sent inhabited only by a few farmers, whose houses stand near the canals of irrigation. The grand edifices erected by the inhabitants of ancient Syracuse are now represented by the ruins of columns on the banks of the Anapo rising from the ” azure” fountain of Cyane; by the fortifications of the Epipolae and Eurvelum erected by Archimedes, and now known as Belvedere ; by the remains of baths, an enormous altar large enough for hecatombs of sacrifices, an amphitheatre, and an admirable theatre fur 25,000 spectators, who were able to see at a glance from their seats the whole of the ancient city, with its temples and fleets of merchantmen. Nothing, however, is better calculated to convey an idea of the ancient grandeur of the city than the vast quarries or lautumioe and the subterranean catacombs, more extensive than those of Naples, and not yet wholly explored. In former times the summit of the island of Ortygia was occupied by an acropolis, in which stood a temple of Minerva, a rival of the Parthenon of Athens. Sailors, on leaving the port, were bound to look towards this temple, holding in their hands a vase of burning charcoal taken from the altar of Juno, which they flung into the sea when they lost sight of it. Portions of the temple still exist, but its beautiful columns have been covered with plaster and incorprorated in an ugly church.
There are other Hellenic ruins in Sicily, which, in the eyes of artists, make that island a worthy rival of Greece itself. Girgenti, the ancient Acragas, or Agrigentum, which numbered its inhabitants by hundreds of thousands, but is now a poor place like Syracuse, possesses ruins of at least ten temples or religious edifices, of which that. dedicated to Olympian Jupiter was the largest in all Italy, and has been made use of in the construction of the present mole. Another, that dedicated to Concord, is in a better state of preservation than any other Greek temple outside the limits of Hellas. The modern city occupies merely the site of the ancient acropolis, and is built upon a layer of shelly sandstone, which descends in steps towards the sea. The cathedral has been built from materials taken from a temple of Jupiter Atabyrios, and its baptismal font is an ancient sarcophagus upon which are represented the loves of Phaedra and Hippolytus. In former times Agrigentum reached to within a couple of miles from the sea. The modern port, named in honour of one of the most famous sons of the city, lies to the west of the ancient Hellenic Emporium, at a distance of four miles from the city. It is the busiest harbour on the southern coast, and large quantities of sulphur are exported from it.
“Sciacca, another seaside town farther to the west, in one of those localities of the island most exposed to earthquakes, boasts of being the modern representative of Selinus, though that Greek city was situated about fourteen miles farther west, to the south of Castelvetrano. Its seven temples have been overthrown by earth-quakes, but they still present us with remains of the purest Doric style. The metopes of three of them have been conveyed to Palermo, where they form the most precious ornaments of the museum.
Segesta, on the north coast, no longer exists, but there still remain the ruins of a magnificent temple. Other remains of Greek art abound in all parts of the island, and there are also monuments erected by the Romans. If we contrast these ancient edifices with those raised since by Byzantines, Moors, Normans, Spaniards, and Neapolitans, we are bound to admit that the latter exhibit no progress, but decadence. Alas ! how very much inferior are the inhabitants of modern Syracuse in comparison with the fellow-citizens of an Archimedes !
Sicily offers most striking examples of towns changing their positions in con-sequence of political disturbances. When the ancient Greek cities were at the height of their power they boldly descended to the very coast ; but when war and rapine got the upper handwhen Moorish pirates scoured the sea, and brigandage reigned in the interiorthen it was that most of the cities of Sicily took refuge on the summits of the hills, abandoning their low-lying suburbs to decay, and allowing them finally to disappear. Girgenti is a case in point. Some of the towns occupy sites of much natural strength, and are almost inaccessible. Such are Centuripe, or Centorbi, which stretches along the edge of a rock to the west of the Simeto, and San Giuliano, the town of Astarte, which stands on the summit of a pyramidal rock 1,200 feet in height above Trapani. But, on the return of peace, the inhabitants abandoned their eyries and came back to the plain or coast. All along the northern coast, from Palermo to Messina, the towns on the marina, or beach, kept increasing at the expense of the borgos occupying the summits of the mountains, and in many instances the latter were deserted altogether. Cefalu affords a striking illustration of this change. The modern city nestles at the foot of a bold promontory, upon the summit of which may still be seen the crenellated walls of the old town, within which nothing now remains excepting a small cyclopean temple, the most venerable ruin of all Sicily, which has resisted the ravages of thirty centuries.