Sicily Festivals


  • Albanesi Festival
    Piana degli Albanesi

    Piana degli Albanesi:
    Greek Orthodox Ritual and Procession (Easter).
  • Agrigento 135 km. south of Palermo.: ALMOND BLOSSOM FESTIVAL
    Folk festival of song, dance, costumes, fireworks. Almond blossom festival and international folklore festival with Valley of Temples and ancient Greek sanctuaries as backdrops. Famous throughout Italy (First 10 days of February).
  • Acireale: Traditional Carnival (February).
    Christmas Croche (December).Trapani
    Trapani – “The Stations of the Cross”
  • Trapani: “Stations of the Cross” Historical Celebration and Passion Play (Good Friday).
  • Adrano: Historical “La Diavolata” Passion Play (Easter).
  • Caltanisetta: “I Misteri” Costumed Celebration (Maundy Thursday).Sciacca
  • Castelbuono: Medieval Games and Tournament (August).
  • Siracusa: Historical water parade and games (August).National and International music prize (Middle of June).
  • Messina: Historical Procession of the Giants (August).
  • Taormina: Rally of Sicilian Costumes and Carts (April).San Cataldo
    San Cataldo
  • San Cataldo: Descent From the Cross (Good Friday).
  • Palermo: Santa Rosalia Folklore Festival and Procession (July 10 to 15).
    Procession, bands, fireworks in honor of the patron saint of the city.Fishermen’s Festival (September 27).Mediterranean Trade Fair (May).

    Opera season at Teatro Massimo (December through June).

  • Trecastagni: Sant’Alfio Procession of Costumes and Carts (May).
  • Catania: Feast Day of Sant’Agata (first week of February).San Fratello
    San Fratello
  • San Fratello: The Devils of San Fratello (Easter Week).

The Mafia

The Mafia or ‘Cosa Nostra’ (translated meaning ‘our thing’) originated in Palermo, Sicily mid 19th century after the unification of Italy. It was originally formed to protect the commoners from the police, government organizations, and criminals. Because of this, they were regarded as heroes, protecting their own people. There was (and still is) one strict rule for ‘mafiosi’ and all those associated with them : the code of silence.

Anyone that breaks this rule, would suffer the consequences and fear for their (and their family’s) life. The name ‘Mafia’ comes from the word ‘mafioso’ which in a Palermo dialect is used to describe someone who is ‘beautiful’ and ‘bold’.

The Mafia is specific to Sicily. There are also other crime organizations such as the Camorra from the Naples, the ‘Ndragheta from Calabria, and the Sacra Corona Unita from Apulia.

Camorra – some say that the Camorra could have originated from the Spanish crime group Garduna in the middle ages. It reached it’s peak of success in the 19th century when Naples was under the rule of the Bourbon Monarchy, and many of it’s members were in the army, police force and civil service. After Naples became a part of United Italy in 1861, many camorra members (camorristi) went to the USA to join the Mafia.

‘Ndragheta – The name ‘Ndragheta comes from the Greek word ‘andragathia’ which means ‘heroism’ and ‘virtue’. They are a very powerful and ruthless organised crime group. They differ to the Mafia, in that the groups are made up from blood families, and they tend to keep a low profile. They operate worldwide including in the USA, France, Spain, Australia, Argentina and Germany.

The Sacra Corona Unita Formed in the early 1980’s, this organised crime group from Apulia, mainly Bari.

The Mafia arrived in America in the early 1900’s organised by several leaders, through recruiting Italian immigrants or already existing Mafiosi from Italy. These leaders included Giuseppe ‘Joe the Boss’ Masseria, and Salvatore Maranzano, who was sent by Sicilian boss Don Vito Cascio Ferro, who dreamt of all American crime families being ruled by one leadership. Some others to arrive by these means were Carlo Gambino and Stefano Maggadino. The Unione Siciliana was set up in America to help immigrants from Italy find housing, identities and protection. It came under criticism for just being a masquerade to help and aid the Mafia, although they also helped law abiding citizens too.

About the author:

Juliana de Angelis is a travel writer about Italy…read more articles, travel guides and information about Italy, its people and culture at her website: Book flights, hotels and shop for Italian products at

Copyright © 2006 Juliana de Angelis – please inform author if using any articles.

Sicily Food & Recipes

This is an excerpt from the book “Sicily”.

Marzapane candy fruit - Photo © Luciana Coletti -*Elle*
Marzapane candy fruit – Photo © Luciana Coletti -*Elle*

On any given night, Sicilian families can be found passing around a heaping plate of caponata, a traditional antipasto made of eggplant, tomatoes, celery, olives, and capers.  Fisherman used to devour this dish with seafood at the end of a long fishing day, but caponata has evolved into one of the most popular Sicilian dishes. The recipe varies and sometimes includes artichokes and even chocolate.

No contemporary Italian kitchen would be complete without a bottle of Marsala wine.  But centuries ago, this cooking staple was created in the western Sicilian town of Marsala to challenge the Portuguese and Spanish monopoly on fortified wines such as Madeira and sherry. Today, marsala is used all over the world to enhance the flavor of a dish, create a sauce, or to be enjoyed as a dessert wine.

Produced in the province of Ragusa and several towns near Syracuse, Caciocavallo Ragusano (Cosacavaddu Rausanu in Sicilian dialect) is a traditional Sicilian cheese made by curdling cow’s milk inside a wooden container called a “tina,” cooking the curds, and then kneading or pulling them by hand. The name was inspired by the practice of tying cheese (cacio in Italian) two-by-two and hanging them so that they straddle (a cavallo in Italian) a wooden beam to age. The seasoned variety is used in many traditional Sicilian recipes, especially pasta and bean dishes.

Melagrana - Photo © Bianca Gualandi
Melagrana – Photo © Bianca Gualandi

It’s impossible to resist the spell of a Sicilian pastry shop window with its explosion of tantalizing colors and aromas. Among the vast array of Sicilian pastry products, the place of honor definitely goes to the cassata. Made of a tantalizing mixture of sponge cake, chocolate, sweetened ricotta, candied fruit, and nuts, the cassata is usually decorated with thick icing or marzipan and covered with brightly colored candied fruits.

The ever-popular cannoli, fried pastry rolls with a delicious filling made from sweet ricotta, chocolate and candied fruits, were once a treat only at Carnival time, but now are enjoyed year-round. And no festival in Sicily would be complete without torrone, the mouthwatering honey-and-nuts nougat that is made in a wide range of varieties across the island.

Palermo Vucciria market

Sicily Food: Sicilian specialty recipes

Agghiotta di pesce spada – Swordfish cooked with tomato, pine nuts, raisins, olives and herbs.
Arancini di riso – Fried rice balls with a core of cheese, peas, chopped meats and tomatoes
Bottarga – Tuna roe
Braccioli di pesce spada – Grilled swordfish fillets wrapped around a cheese-vegetable filling.
Bruschetta ai Capperi di Pantelleria – Pantelleria Capers Bruschetta
Cannoli con ricotta – Ricotta-stuffed Rolls
Caponata siciliana – Eggplant and Tomato Stew
Carciofi ripieni – Artichokes stuffed with sausage, sardines and cheese and baked.
Cassata alla siciliana – Sicilian Cassata
Cotognata – Quince Preserve
Couscous con pesce – Fish Stew Couscous
Crispeddi – Anchovy and Dill Fritters
Fravioli di Carnevale – Fried sweet ravioli filled with ricotta and cinnamon.
Falsomagro – Stuffed Beef Roll
Gnocculli – semolino gnocchi with ricotta and meat sauce.
Gnocculli di San Giuseppe – semolino gnocchi with eggs, cinnamon and sugar.
Involtini di pesce spada – Swordfish Rolls
Melanzane alla siciliana – Eggplant fried and then baked with mozzarella and tomato sauce.
Panizza – Chickpea Polenta
Pasta alla Norma – spaghetti with a sauce of eggplant and tomato
Pasta con le sarde – Bucatini with Sardines
Peperonata: bell peppers stewed with onion, tomato and olives, often served cold.
Pesce spada a’sammorigghu – Grilled Swordfish
Pesto ericino – Pesto from Erice
Pignolata or pignulata – Confection of sweet fried dumplings (sometimes chocolate coated).
Polpettone siciliano – meatball of ground beef, breadcrumbs, grated cheese and eggs, fried in olive oil and served with tomato sauce.
Salmoriglio – Olive Oil, Lemon and Garlic Sauce
Sarde a beccafico – Stuffed Sardines
Scorzette di arance candite – Candied orange peels.
Sfincioni or sfinciuni – Thick focacce with tomato and cheese, specialty of Palermo
Spaghetti alla Puttanesca
Testina di capretto al forno – Baked Spring Kid’s Head
Zite al pomodoro e tonno – Short pasta tubes with tomato and tuna sauce.

This is an excerpt from the book “Sicily”. Get the ebook for the complete content.

The Castles of Frederick II in Sicily

Castle of Federick  Castle of Federick
Castello di Lombardia – Enna

Of all the castles built in Sicily, the fortified constructions of Frederick II constitute the most homogeneous and representative series of such buildings, whose original purposes were strategic and defensive yet reflect the life of a society and an age which in addition to military considerations was also inspired by the rich and fertile culture which Ferdinand promoted throughout his intense reign.

Absolute monarch of his empire, Frederick dispossessed the feudal lords of their fortified dwellings, which, having become crown property, were enlarged and altered by his engineers and transformed into impregnable fortresses for the exercise of local power. A number of imposing castles were thus built which reflected not only defensive needs but also the spiritual inspiration of the principles of Cistercian monasticism, the order founded by Bernard of Chiaravalle and dear to the king.

Castle of Federick

Through this rigorous school, which excluded all vanity in art for the greater benefit of the spreading of knowledge that might help to explain the mysteries of the universe, the castles of King Frederick, externally fortified citadels on the outside but spacious and bright inside, are the symbolic image of the will and the principles of absolute power which marked the Emperor’s spirit and characterized his reign.

In 1229, on his return from a Crusade in the east, the Emperor initiated his vast program of defensive architecture, creating in eastern Sicily the most homogeneous group of “castri regia”, constructed ex nihilo by the “protomagistri regi”, of whom the most celebrated was Richard of Lentini.

The castles of Augusta, Syracuse and Milazzo were quickly built, together with the Castello Ursino in Catania. The castles of Enna, Terranova (Gela) and Scaletta Zanclea rose in central and western Sicily.

Castle of Federick
Castello Ursino – Catania
(photo by D. Santonocito)

These have in common the feature of extreme regularity in their square design, similar to fortified architecture of the same period in northern Tunisia and Persia, which Frederick and his architects never actually saw.

The similarity would seem to be due to the common model of the Roman castrum. The design of the interior spaces is however completely new, though to a large extent inspired by Cistercian monastery architecture. The castles on the coast present some variations from these models: at Augusta and Milazzo the towers are quadrilateral towers, while at Catania and Syracuse they are circular.

Castel Maniace in Syracuse is the only one to have an inner courtyard, in which sixteen cross-ribbed pillars create an atmosphere of unreality, augmented by the light falling from above and through the windows.

Castle of Federick
Castel Maniace – Syracuse

Enna Castle, known as Castello di Lombardia (Lombardy Castle) because it stood near the site of a colony of Lombards, was entirely restructured by the Emperor.

It towers above the surrounding buildings and looks towards Frederick’s Tower a mile away.

This building, a hunting lodge for the frequent hunting expeditions in the forests of the hinterland, is the finest example of an octagonal tower, surrounded by a wall of similar geometrical design.

Federick II
Frederick II

Frederick II of Swabia, 1194–1250, Holy Roman emperor (1220–50) and German king (1212–20), king of Sicily (1197–1250), and king of Jerusalem (1229–50), son of Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI and of Constance, heiress of Sicily. Frederick II was educated in Palermo and his magnificently hegemonic multi-shaped and eminent personality in the 13th century stood out, in the culture and troubled political life of the time. De Stefano, the historian, considers him bold, clever, medieval, modern; certainly he is the most dramatic personage of the 13th century.

The Kingdom of Sicily with Palermo its prestigious capital, became a hub of organization, science and the arts that was, for many years to illuminate the consciousness of the European peoples. This great king’s death marked the beginning of the end of Swabian rule.
Courtesy of ENIT North America

La Riserva dello Zingaro

In the province of Trapani, in western Sicily, between San Vito lo Capo and Castellammare del Golfo the hillsides slope gently to the sea in a myriad of little coves and herald the beginning of a natural Regional reserve, the Riserva naturale Orientata dello Zingaro.

Riserva dello Zingaro - Photo © Luciana Coletti -*Elle*
Riserva dello Zingaro – Photo © Luciana Coletti -*Elle*


Narrow paths, specially laid out on the slopes, lead to the sea or climb up the hills, making it possible to sight one of the most intact Mediterranean ecosystems.

Scopello, the main access point to the Riserva, is perhaps the more evocative and colorful place of the entire gulf of Castellammare. It is a small village risen at the end of the 18th century around the “baglio”, on a previous Arab country house. In the low-lying wonderful cove limited by the stacks and protected by old towers, there is the “tonnara” (tuna-fishing structure), known sine a long time ago (it is mentioned in documents of the year 1200); it has worked until few years ago, together with the “baglio”, the buildings and the warehouses.

Scopello has been inhabited since the prehistoric period (finds discovered in the caves of the inland document the human presence, starting from the Paleolithic period), the zone has been known since ancient times because of the abundance of tunas, which were fished in its sea, so much that the Greeks called it “Cetaria”, that means “earth of the tunas”.

Riserva dello Zingaro Spiaggia
Zingaro Beach – Photo ©

The Arabs founded there a country house, which was inhabited by fishermen and shepherds and, in 1235, Frederic II the Swabian, after having annexed it with all the feud to the city Mounte San Giuliano, granted the property to a group of settlers of Piacenza, who soon left because of the continuous pirate incursions. In those centuries, in fact, the pirates who infested the low Mediterranean sea, used the bay of Scopello as a base for their raids: mooring the ships behind the stacks, they were practically invisible from the open sea.

The towers give to the landscape a mystery halo and a fascinating atmosphere, which mixes together nature and history.

They go back to different ages and they were part of a system of defense and communication distributed along all the perimeter of the Sicily: communicating among themselves using the fire, by night and using the smoke during the day, all the island could be informed in very little time of any military news.

Riserva dello Zingaro
Riserva dello Zingaro – Photo © ervortice

The oldest tower, probably built by the Arabs to protect the “tonnara”, is the one that rises on the stack that was once connected to the mainland, which could be approached through a bridge or probably a scale that was carved in the rock itself. The Doria tower, from the name of the Spanish nobleman who let it build on the terrace that faces the bay, goes back to the XVII century. Another one, the Bennistra tower, is the one built in the XV century on the top of a mount in the south of the “baglio” and that dominates from its exceptional point of observation the entire gulf of Castellammare.

Flora and fauna:

This area is the nesting territory for dozens of avian species: peregrine falcons, Bonell’s eagles, buzzards, kestrels, kites and other birds included in the red list of endangered species.

The reserve is a real oasis of biodiversity, also rich in many rare native plants like the dwarf palm, the symbol of Zingaro, which spontaneously grows in every recess and declivity.

Riserva dello Zingaro Map

How to get there:

  • By car from Trapani with SS 187 TP-PA
  • Trapani-Birgi Airport: motorway A29, direction Palermo, Castellammare del Golfo exit, direction Scopello.
  • Palermo: motorway A29, Palermo/Mazara del Vallo, Castellammare del Golfo exit, direction Scopello.

Courtesy of AAIPT Provincia di Palermo, Palermo Official Tourist Board

Favignana: The last tonnaras

Sicily Tonnara

In Sicilian and Sardinian last tonnare, the ancient mattanza rite, a traditional tuna-fishing technique, still exist. Every year at the end of springtime huge tuna migrate from the Atlantic Ocean to the warmer Mediterranean waters. These fish can reach the weight of 400 kilos and they are captured and loaded on board of the boats using only the fishermen’s arm strength. Colossal nets are hoisted by hand under the supervision of the Rais, the supreme chief, and the fishermen tune up ancient songs while the sea turns red with tuna’s blood and is tossed by their last pangs of life. It is a remaining of an archaic world that is now difficult to understand; a world where tradition and religion, struggle for life and search of wealth, love and death were mixed up.

This is undoubtedly a cruel fishing technique, but an extremely selective one, and probably for this reason it is also much less detrimental to the environment than trawling or than spadare.

Sicily Tonnara

Mattanza is the bloody final act of a preparation process which lasts for months and has remained unchanged for centuries: its origin goes so far back in time that it is lost.

Even the traditional songs that are sung during fishing are so old that have become partially incomprehensible to the very fishermen.

Tonnare are complex fixed-net systems a few kilometers long (and their plants for the fish processing). There were hundreds of them in the Mediterranean sea until the first half of the XX century, but now, due both to the diminishing number of tuna caused by pollution and intensive fishing, and the market laws that have made this fishing technique less and less cheap, there are only about ten tonnare left in the whole Mediterranean sea.

Two of them still struggle to survive in Sicily: Bonagia’s (not far from Trapani) and Favignana’s, as well as Carloforte in Sardinia.

The Northern bluefin tuna (thunnus thynnus) holds an almost mythic position among the world’s pelagic fish.

Sicily Tonnara

Aristotle described the migratory and reproductive habits of tuna in his treatise History of Animals, written in 350 B.C.

The Phoenicians and Carthaginians stamped their coins with an image of a bluefin tuna.

In the first century A.D., Pliny the Elder prescribed various parts of the tuna as homeopathic remedies for human ailments.

In more recent history, Arabs, Spanish, and Italians have incorporated tuna not only into their diets, but also into their poetry, music and culture.

Sicily Tonnara

Like salmon, bluefin tuna are migratory fish that return annually to their original spawning grounds.

The Northern bluefin, which lives throughout the Atlantic, spawns either in the Gulf of Mexico or in the Mediterranean.

bluefin that spawns in the Mediterranean will spend its spring in the north along the Spanish and French coasts, then head southeast toward the warmer waters of North Africa and Greece, then return to the Atlantic Ocean after spawning season has completed.

A bluefin takes 5-8 years to reach maturity, after which it will return to the spawning ground where it was born. The Northern bluefin’s predictable spawning pattern is critical to the mattanza.

Sicily Tonnara

Mediterranean Bluefin Tuna Trancio in Olive Oil

We’re talking about Mediterranean Tuna (thunnus thynnus), the most prized species, also called Bluefin  Tuna (or, in Italian, “Tonno Rosso”).

It’s fished in the so called “rush” phase, that is, when it’s almost at the end of the long migration that takes it towards the warmest waters for mating.

It’s at this stage, and not after mating, that it is possible to glean the best and nutritionally richest tuna meats.

Ventresca is the most tender part of the tuna, it’s taken from the tuna’s belly.


Erice - Photo © Luciana Coletti -*Elle*
Erice – Photo © Luciana Coletti -*Elle*

Erice is a historical city in the mountains close to Trapani in Sicily, Italy.

Unlike Trapani which was rebuilt after World War II bombings destroyed much of the city, Erice retains a wonderful medieval ambiance, with a labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets, and a number of old churches.

Erice hosts important scientific meetings, organized by the Italian astrophysicist Antonio Zichichi.

In the northeastern portion of the city there are the remains of ancient Elymian and Phoenician walls indicating different stages of settlement and occupation in antiquity.

There are two castles that remain in the city; first, Pepoli Castle, which dates from Saracen times, and Venus Castle which dates from the Norman period, on top of the ancient Temple of Venus.

The city overlooks the bay of Castellammare del Golfo on Sicily’s northern coast, and the views are spectacular.

The ancient name of Erice was Eryx.

Temple of Venus

There was a temple of Venus in Erice, where Venere Ericina was worshipped.

According to legend, it was founded by Aeneas.

It was well-known throughout the Mediterranean area in the ancient age, and an important cult was celebrated in it.

View from Erice - Photo © fazen
View from Erice – Photo © fazen

In his book On the Nature of Animals, Aelian writes that animals chosen for sacrifice would voluntarily walk up to the altar to be killed.

The Cathedral Church

From Porta Trapani, one of the entrance to the city, it gets to via Vito Carvini and so to the Cathedral Church.

In front of it, an imposing bell-tower rises with two orders of gothic mullioned windows and it is crowned by merlons.

It supposes that the bell-tower originally has been built as a vedetta tower by Federico from Aragon in 1312 and only later it has been used as a bell-tower.

The church, erected in 1314, outside has a rectangular pronaos of 1426 which precedes the main front Under four ogival arches a very beautiful gothic doorway, with broken line ornate, opens. Above it is possible to see a beautiful rose-window.

Erice Cathedral
Photo licenza Creative Commons Geo8

Inside is with three aisles, in the Gothic style, and keeps works by Domenico Gagini (1420-1492) and fragments of frescos by Catalan school of the XV century. Along the nave on the left there are two different chapels. In the art treasure there are a monstrance of 1600 based on a foot of 1400 and an astylar cross in silver lamina of 1400.

How to get there:

To get to Erice from Trapani, take the cable car (and rouse your heart), or drive up the via Vito Carvini.

Where to stay in Erice

There are hotels, B&Bs, villas and apartments available, check them out and make a reservation here.