Sicily is one of the most fascinating places I have been to, and there is no end to curiosities about this magical land! And it is not only about breathtaking views, the vastness of the sea, sweet oranges that melt in your mouth, the best pistachios in the world, extremely rich culinary traditions, cheerful and extremely hospitable people, or almost 300 sunny days a year.
Sicily is much more, and what makes it special magic and character are the following:
- the inhabitants’ passion for celebration, which is manifested in numerous, often very unusual events organized throughout the year in various parts of the Island,
- and mysterious legends and symbols referring to antiquity, appearing virtually every step.
Today I am going to tell you some interesting facts about Sicily that will surely surprise you!
Moor’s head – a Sicilian flower pot with an intriguing story in the background
There is no way that you can miss the Head of the Moor on one of the balconies while walking through the streets of Sicily. It is one of the most characteristic symbols of the island and has a very interesting history behind it.
Apparently, a long time ago, during the Arab domination of Sicily, there lived a girl of exceptional beauty in Palermo. She had a large terrace where she often stayed, growing her beloved plants. And so, once a certain Moor (Arab) was passing by her house and instantly fell in love with a beautiful Palermitan woman. He confessed his love to her, she warmly returned his affection, and then they spent some wonderful days together. Unfortunately, later it turned out that Maur had to go home because… his wife and children were waiting for him there.
The Palermitan woman was very upset. She waited until the boy fell asleep and cut off his head at night, thus keeping him to herself forever. She placed the severed head on the terrace and made a “pot” in which she planted the basil. Thanks to the girl’s tears, the plant grew unusually lush. Jealous neighbors began to imitate pots resembling “Maur’s head”, so that their basilies could also develop so beautifully.
What is the moral of the story? Better not to break the hearts of the Palermitans! And the Moor’s head made of Sicilian ceramics will be a great souvenir from Sicily 🙂
Sicilian Triskelion (trinacria)
This is another Sicilian symbol that can be found literally everywhere – it even appears also on the flag of Sicily! What could this mysterious, slightly scary female head with three bent legs around her mean?
First of all, it refers to the unusual shape of the island, which is a triangle, and is represented by its three extreme points – Capo Peloro near Messina, Capo Passero near Syracuse and Capo Boeo near Marsala. The figure inside is a woman, more precisely Medusa, whose gaze turns to stone everyone who looks at her.
There are many other interesting theories and legends about the origin of Triskelion. Certainly, this symbol appeared in antiquity and was supposed to protect the Sicilians from evil and serve as a good luck charm. For this reason, you will often find it at the entrance to Sicilian houses or temples.
The cult of saints in Sicily – St. Rosalie and Palermo and St. Agatha and Catania
You have to realize that in Sicily the cult of saints is extremely important and each city has its patron, whom he venerates above all else. And it is not that the Sicilians are very religious, because (now) it doesn’t work like this, but it is more connected with love for family traditions and the willingness to maintain customs that are close to them. Sicilians are very proud of where they come from!
For example, Palermo has got its Saint Rosalie. You will see her image practically everywhere – on the walls. Interestingly she is the patroness who protects against plague and infectious diseases (in 2020).
The way Sicilians celebrate religious holidays is significantly different from what we know in Poland. First of all, because it is not a sad and serious event, but full of joy, smiles and… fireworks!
I was very lucky to participate (even in pre-pandemic times) in the celebrations related to St. Agatha in Catania (here you can read the full report about it) and believe me or not – you just have to experience it. It doesn’t matter if you are religious or not;) It’s something completely different!
If you are planning to go to Palermo during your holidays, come to participate in this event! The holiday begins on July 10 and lasts for 5 days – until July 15. And be sure to come to Catania (at least once in your life) between February 3 and 5 for the feast of St. Agatha!
Competition on the Catania – Palermo line
What can I say – the inhabitants of Catania and Palermo generally don’t like each other. Of course, I am writing about it in a veeery exaggeration (and a bit with a grain of salt;)), but there is a certain “tension” between these two largest cities. This is mostly talked about in jokes, but still!
An example of this not entirely simple relationship is the dispute over the famous Sicilian street-food – fried rice ball with additives. The people of Catania call it arancinO, while in Palermo it is called arancinA. And you better remember where to use which names, otherwise you will be in the Sicilians’ black books! The approach to food in Sicily is really serious.
Sicily is not only beaches and beautiful views
Italy is the country with the most UNESCO World Heritage sites in Europe – 54. But Sicily is the region with the most of them!
These include, among others: the archaeological zone of the valley of temples in Agrigento (Great Greece in Sicily!), Mount Etna , Arab-Norman Palermo and the cathedrals in Cefalù and Monreale (here you will find information on the most beautiful places in Palermo!) or the late Baroque towns in the Val di Noto valley. Well, there are so many different reasons to visit Sicily!
You could write a book about it (and that’s what I have done!). The number of sweet and salty Sicilian street food along with its regional varieties will make you astonished. There is a lot of all these delicacies and I guarantee you that you don’t realize the seriousness of the situation! If you think that Sicilian street-food is limited only to the most famous arancini and cannoli … you still have to learn a lot about Sicilian food 🙂
Already in ancient Greece there was a custom of eating meals outside home, and Sicilian street-food has really little to do with our very hipster notion of it, where we have to pay 12 euro or more for a burger and fries set.
In Sicily, street food is primarily cheap, fresh, high-quality and delicious! The choice is really wide from the popular in Palermo pane e panelle (sesame roll with fried chickpea flour pancakes) and pane con la milza (roll with spleen and lungs with a small amount of squeezed lemon), to the fantastic scaccia (stuffed focaccia) popular in Ragusa and Modica to cartocciate (savory snack with e.g. fries, sausages and mayonnaise) in Catania.
And if you would like to get to know the tastiest corners of Sicily, sign up to the waiting list for my culinary guides!
Thanks to them, you will learn the addresses of unique bars and restaurants, inaccessible to ordinary tourists, where mainly locals go, and you will save money spent on disappointing food, recommended by random people on Internet who spent little time in Sicily and did not manage to get to know it from the inside out. Click on the banners below for more details!
What surprised you the most in Sicily? Maybe you know some other interesting facts about this? 😉
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