POPULATION: 5.08 million (as of 2015)

LAND AREA: 25,711 square kilometers (9,927 square miles)

LOCATION: Sicily is located in the central Mediterranean Sea, south of the Italian Peninsula (at the tip of the “boot”), from which it is separated by the narrow Strait of Messina.

REGIONS: Sicily is comprised of 9 provinces: Palermo, Catania, Messina, Siracusa, Ragusa, Enna, Caltanissetta, Agrigento, and Trapani (all except Enna have a coastline).

CAPITAL: Palermo (with approximately 676,000 inhabitants)

OFFICIAL LANGUAGE: About 70 percent of people in Sicily actually speak Sicilian not Italian. In fact Sicilian is so different from Italian that even though it is referred to as a dialect, it could be a language in its own right

FLAG: The Sicilian flag has a long history dating back to the Sicilian Vespers in 1282. The two main colors, RED (Palermo) and YELLOW (Corleone), represent the two founding cities of the confederation against the Angevin rulers (Corleone was one of the island’s most important agricultural centres at the time).

The three legs of the central figure represent a “trinacria”, or triangle, from the Greek name for Sicily, “Trinakrias”.  The face in the center was originally that of the gorgon Medusa (from Greek mythology), but now has a softer look.

CLIMATE: Sicily enjoys a Mediterranean climate with mild to warm, wet winters and warm to hot, dry summers.

MAJOR MOUNTAIN RANGES: Mount Etna is western Europe’s largest volcano at 3,329 meters (10,922 feet) above sea level and is one of two active volcanoes in Sicily (Stromboli being the other).  The vast mountain ranges of Nebrodi and Madonie boast impressive summits as well.

MAJOR RIVERS: Salso, Simeto, Belice, Dittaino, Platani

FUN FACTS: Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean with 600 miles of coastline and yet it is still somewhat undeveloped for tourism. It takes roughly 3 ½ hours to cross the main island from east to west and 2 ½ from north to south.

At its narrowest point, between Torre Faro (Sicily) and Villa San Giovanni (Calabria), the Strait of Messina is only 3.1 km (1.9 mi) wide.

The term “mafia” originated in Sicily and this is indeed home to the infamous and illicit Mafia criminal organization.  The Allies used Sicily during WWII as a base to begin the Allied Invasion in 1943 which finally led to the end of Benito Mussolini’s reign in the country.

HISTORY: The “Kingdom of Sicily” was founded in 1130, following Greek, Roman, Gothic, and Byzantine rule.  It was  the successor state of the “County of Sicily”, which was founded in 1071 (Norman conquest) and was ultimately conquered by the French in 1266.

The infamous War of the Sicilian Vespers (Vespiri siciliani) began on Easter Monday (March 30, 1282) at the Church of the Holy Spirit, just outside of Palermo. The story goes that during the church’s evening prayer session (i.e. vespers), a Frenchman harassed a married Sicilian woman. It should be noted that the ruler at the time, the French king Charles I was an Angevin, whose followers had a legacy of mistreating the Sicilian natives. He was also inflicting heavy taxes upon the Sicilian people to fund his political ambitions throughout Europe.

The locals came to the defense of the woman and the French inhabitants reciprocated, but were eventually overwhelmed by the superior numbers of the Sicilian crowd. The event led to the massacre of several thousand (4,000 to 13,000 by varying accounts) Frenchmen over the course of the next six weeks and the loss of French governmental control over the island.

Sicilian Vespers by Francesco Hayez (1846)

“Sicilian Vespers” by Francesco Hayez (1846)

The war lasted for twenty years, ending with the Peace of Caltabellota on August 31, 1302. The treaty divided the old Kingdom of Sicily into two portions. The Kingdom of Trinacria (the island portion) went to the Sicilian king Frederick III, while the Mezzogiorno (peninsular portion, also called the Kingdom of Naples) would be ruled by the French king Charles II.

Despite changing foreign sovereigns many times, the geographical division lasted until the two were merged in 1816. The new “Kingdom of the Two Sicilies” (Naples and Sicily) was born and lasted until 1861, when it was annexed by the “Kingdom of Sardinia” to form the “Kingdom of Italy”. This was the last predecessor to today’s Italian Republic, established by popular referendum in June 1946.