Sicily culture and traditions are as colourful as its past. The island evolved with its early tribes and colonies of ancient races. From a province of a vast empire, Sicily also became a domain of various foreign invaders before it united with Italy. It is surrounded by waters, filled with magnificent landscapes. The world identified it with diverse practices formed by the many nations that occupied it and left their mark here.
Below are the best( and strangest) Sicily culture and traditions, the Sicilians adapted and practised through the years. You may also see our Sicily Culture trip itineraries through this link.
Sicily Culture and Traditions
Sicily Arts and Architecture
Sicily’s arts and architectures are the results of its rich and colourful history. The primaeval tribe of the Sicani introduced terracotta ceramics in Sicily thousands of years ago. Ceramics art and production is still surviving in the region. A Sicilian house is not a Sicilian home without ceramic plates, bowls, vases or statues to represent their Sicilian identity. Sicily also boasts remarkable Greek and Roman ruins. Together with Baroque buildings and Arab-Norman-Byzantine monuments commissioned by the island’s previous masters.
Shadowed by its more than two millennia of existence, the literature of Sicily owed its roots from heroic stories. The legends told in the early days of the Greeks. The Greek doctrines reached the Mediterranean region of Magna Graecia with myths about the gods and goddesses. They were believed to be the protectors of the land, temples and sanctuaries were built to worship them. From the familial relationship of agriculture deities, Demeter and her daughter Persephone. And then, the latter’s tragic fate with Hades, the god of the underworld. There were also Homer’s accounts of Odysseus against the one-eyed Cyclops Polyphemus. We should not forget Hercules and his adventures to Sicily. The influence of Greek classical philosophies in Sicily had also extended to the Rome capital.
The Romans took inspiration from their Greek counterparts in Athens or the nearer neighbours in Sicily which they subsequently conquered. Empedocles of Akragas and Corax of Syracuse were some of the most admired rhetoricians in Sicilia. Roman orators and poets used their talent to raise ideas, persuade people and made an impact on society. The known Roman politician Cicero once lived in Sicily as a government official. Together with the support of the locals, he had voiced out their dissatisfaction against the then corrupt magistrate Gaius Verres. It was through a war of words in the court of Rome. The Roman era in Sicily was portrayed with poems, songs and proses. They were recited and circulated to both express joys and sorrows from conclaves to public gatherings. Widely spoken in Latin which later transformed into the romance language we call Sicilianu during the late Norman period.
The writing community of poets, intellectuals and historians, the Sicilian School. The society was established by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. Later had emerged as the most important group proliferating Sicilian literature all over Italy. It had given birth to today’s Sicilian dialect, Sicilianu.
The remains of the ancient Greek and Roman theatres in Sicily are the evidence of the Sicilians desires for entertainment since antiquity. The Greco-Roman theatre in Taormina is used for cultural and popular productions. The shows were attended by large crowds and televised all over Italy. Other significant theatres in Sicily are the opera houses of Teatro Massimo in Palermo and Teatro Massimo Bellini in Catania. These theatres are famous for their world-class performances. It is a great experience to visit them in formal attire and enjoy stage musicals and orchestra concerts. Although only generally admired by tourists now, the Opera dei Pupi or Theatrical Marionettes is also worth mentioning. It is one of Sicily’s intangible cultural heritage.
Sicilians love going to the cinemas, watching local movies or international dubbed in Italian. They also take pride in films shot in Sicily showcasing its majestic beauty and unique traditions. From Il Padrino (the Godfather) to Nuovo Cinema Paradiso and Il Postino.
Sicilians also organise various festivals and events to celebrate life. Most of the time, to just satisfy their adoration for dance and music. There is the Sicily Music Festival in Erice and presentations in every village Sagres(sometimes with celebrity guests). Then their fondness to Latin American music. Not to mention the long preparation for the dance parades throughout Carnevale. The dance halls open to all for Christmas and New Year parties. Numerous renowned singers were also hailed from Sicily, the humorous Brigantony as one of our personal favourites.
Sicilian Religious celebrations
There are 365 days in a year and in Sicily, every single day is probably just another reason to commemorate. It is either a Saint feast day or another Sicilian religious belief. Majority of Sicilians are Christian Roman Catholic. They frequent the Church every Sunday. Follow its teachings and sacraments from baptism to matrimony. Each town, even the smallest neighbourhoods have their own patrons. The municipalities have assigned a date or occasionally a week to honour their patron saints, With solemn processions and food festivals exhibiting local farmers’ freshest produce. Catania has Sant’ Agata Day. It is where devotees flocked in the streets to carry the holy relics of Saint Agatha. Syracuse has Santa Lucia. She was the saviour of the city during the 1642 famine in the city. While Palermo has Santa Rosalia and her day is a major event in all of the metropolitan.
Have you been to Sicily? If yes, please let us know on the comment section if you have noticed some unique customs in Sicily like their 2 pm nap time or that one special day in December without pasta and bread. If not yet, feel free to share the unique custom in your home country or city. We would love to know and understand them.
Being married to a Sicilian and living here for more than 8 years, I have observed a few norms in Sicily. I am sure you will come across them too if you stay here a bit longer, they make them too obvious! We have put up a list of unique Sicilian customs, lifestyles, and values here to guide you.
References: Cultural Memory