Sicily, (Italian:Sicilia), the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Politically, it is part of Italy. It lies off the southern tip of the Italian mainland, separated from it by the narrow Strait of Messina. Sicily is roughly triangular in shape and has an area of 9,926 square miles (25,708 km2).

The island is a rugged land of mountains and hills, with little flat land except along the coast. The principal ranges cross northern Sicily, reaching elevations of nearly 6,500 feet (1,980 m). Southward, the ranges give way to the lower mountains and hills that make up most of the island's terrain. Sicily's highest peak is the massive Mount Etna, a 10,902-foot (3,323-m) active volcano near the east coast. With few exceptions, Sicily's rivers are short; many of them are dry during summer. The climate is of the Mediterranean type—the winters are cool and rainy and the summers are hot and dry.

With its limited resources, relatively high population, and isolated location, Sicily is one of Italy's poorer regions. Sicilians have long been dependent primarily on farming—an occupation that provides only bare subsistence to many. Although industrial development is beginning to raise the low income level in some parts of the island, many people continue to live by farming. Wheat is the chief field crop, followed by barley and oats. The coastal lowlands of the north and east produce a large part of Italy's citrus fruit crop. There are also extensive olive groves and vineyards.

The discovery of petroleum in the 1950's marked the beginning of gradual economic change in Sicily. Oil fields near Ragusa and Gela, which account for most of Italy's domestic production of crude oil, brought about the building of refineries and petrochemical plants on the coast. In the area between Catania and Syracuse were built manufacturing plants producing such items as drugs, paper, and electronic equipment. Other factories have been established at Palermo and Messina, which also have sizable shipbuilding and food-processing industries. Trapani and Syracuse are commercial fishing ports.

Sicily's population in 1991 was 4,966,386. The largest cities were Palermo, the capital, 697,162; Catania, 330,037; and Messina, 272,461.

History

Sicily's strategic location brought successive waves of colonists and invaders. Trading posts were established by the Phoenicians, about 900 B.C In the eighth century B.C., Greek colonists began to arrive, and the Phoenicians were forced to withdraw to the western part of the island. Rivalries gradually developed among the flourishing Greek cities. Syracuse, in the east, came to dominate most of Sicily and rivaled Athens in culture and military power.

In 409 B.C., Carthaginian invaders overran most of Sicily. Following the First Punic War (264–241), fought between Rome and Carthage, Sicily became a Roman province. Beginning in the fifth century A.D., it was invaded by Vandals and Goths. Byzantine forces eventually freed Sicily from the barbarians. During the ninth century, Muslim invaders from North Africa gained control. Islamic culture flourished, and Sicily became a trade center. In the 11th century, the Normans, who had conquered southern Italy, added Sicily to their domain, which became the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1130. (For the history of Sicily as part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies,

Following the overthrow of the kingdom's Spanish monarchy in 1860, Sicily became part of a unified Italy.