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By Elena Bernardi
The island of Sicily has been inspiring travelers for thousands of years with its exhilarating combination of natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. Visitors from antiquity through modern times have been drawn to the Mediterranean's largest island and impressed by everything it has to offer.
The culture of Sicily is singularly unique, shaped as it is by a wide variety of influences. Beginning in ancient times, Sicily has been infused with a mix of cultural traditions, thanks to its positioning as a key fixture of multiple Mediterranean trade routes. Thus today Sicily reflects influences from Angevin, Aragonese, Byzantine, Catalan, Greek, Muslim, Norman, and Roman contributors, which combine in a colorful pastiche to make modern Sicily into a one of a kind, open air museum.
The many Sicilian architectural remains, considered to be some of the finest from all antiquity, date back as far as the 13th to the 17th centuries BCE, which is the period from which the ancient and enchanting Necropolis at Pantalica originates. This "City of the Dead" contains over 5000 tombs from ancient times, yet has been described as "a charming place to live". Other architectural elements date from the 8th century BCE, when the island was colonized by the first Greek settlers, imprinting Sicily with the lasting marks of the Hellenic civilization that they brought with them. At one time an independent Greek city-state, Sicily is still home to one of the greatest examples of Greek art and architecture in the world, the Valle dei Templi, or Valley of the Temples, which is not only one of the island's central attractions but also an Italian national monument and UNESCO Heritage Site. Sicily was once even the center of an extensive kingdom, the Kingdom of Sicily, which it ruled for seven centuries, beginning in the Middle Ages. Its other attractions for culture seekers include its many archaeological parks such as the ones at Selinunte and Piazza Armerina.
Travelers have appreciated the natural beauty of Sicily since the time of Ulysses, who sailed along its coast witnessing its magnificent sunsets. The coast is not the only place from which to view this spectacle, however; the ruins of Megara Hyblea and the Greek theatre at Taormina have also been noted for their spectacular natural views. Those who visit the island in search of adventure may find it by climbing Mount Etna, the highest peak in Italy outside of the Alps as well as the largest active volcano in Europe, or by swimming in the sea at Camarina, where countless ancient ships lie hidden beneath the waves and the sand.
In visiting Sicily you will be in the company of such renowned commentators as the Roman philosopher Cicero, who described Syracuse as the greatest and most beautiful city of all Ancient Greece. And although one 19th century commentator described the island as being "Seared and riven by lava and sun, like a hell on Earth, inhabited by people more devil-like than human", other visitors have had much more favorable things to say. Among these visitors have been the countless members of the European gentry to make Sicily a stop on their Grand Tour of Europe, a tradition popular from the 17th to 19th centuries. One of the more well-known of these travelers was the famous intellect Wolfgang Goethe, who wrote about the island of Sicily in his Italienische Reise, or Italian Journey.
Elena Bernardi, writing for Cultural Italy, a travel agency specializing in travel to Italy.
For Sicily tours please visit http://www.culturalitaly.com
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