National Geographic : 1927 Oct
SICILY: ISLAND OF VIVID BEAUTY AND CRUMBLING GLORY SICILY refuses to be considered merely in terms of the present. Go there, lured by the beauties of its craggy north coast, the charm of its rolling hills, its sunshine, its picturesque people, or its huge volcano; and Sicily's glorious and varied past quickly thrusts itself also into the picture. The island stands to-day the product of a racial melting pot that has seethed for centuries. The story of this human caldron may be read in the faces of the people. For the most part the many racial strains have been merged, but now and then a type flashes as a challenge from the past. Here one sees the high brow and straight nose of a Greek; there the deep, dark eyes of a Saracen; yonder the fair hair of a Teuton. When a Sicilian passes you to-day you may hear the footsteps of all the motley throng that has trod the shores of the island through thirty centuries.* RUINS OF GREEK PERIOD ABOUND More of Sicily's story is told in the signposts of stone from the past that one sees in rambling about the beautiful island. Scattered along its coasts, espe cially in the south and east, are the ruins of wonderful Greek temples, ranking with the architectural masterpieces of Greece itself. To the casual visitor from north ern Europe or America, these magnificent relics of Greek civilization seem as in congruous as a Chinese pagoda in the heart of Africa. But they tell truly of the island's Golden Age, when Sicily, daughter of Greece, grew to a stature and a beauty that rivaled, if they did not ac tually surpass, those of the motherland. Sicily is often pointed out on the map as the "football of Italy," lying at the toe of the Italian boot. Politically, the island only too truly has been the football of Europe, kicked through the centuries from sovereignty to sovereignty; the object of countless conquests; tossed now to one power, now to another, by tyrant, king, pope, and emperor. It has suffered in * See, also, "Zigzagging Across Sicily," by Melville Chater, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for September, 1924. cessant strife and repeated invasions, and the mixture of blood and customs that has come with them, so that it finds itself in certain difficulties to-day. Potentially it is rich, the garden island of the Mediterranean; actually it is in large part a land of unprosperous peas ants oppressed by absentee landlordism. There has been a distinct tide in the affairs of Sicily. First the world grew to it; then far beyond it. When the curtain first rose on the drama of Europe, civil ization and culture were concentrated in the eastern Mediterranean, in Greece and along the shores of Asia Minor and Syria. Sicily was a raw frontier land. But in evitably civilization was to move west ward along the water highway that lay waiting. A Greek Columbus of the day discov ered Sicily and reported it sparsely settled; and soon "Going to Sicily" became a prac tice in the Greek world, as "Going to America" came to be an industry in Sicily 22 centuries later.* Greece's new western world developed with a startling rapidity to be seen again in America. Within a century and a half Greek towns occupied sites all along the east and south coasts of Sicily; and Syra cuse, greatest of them all, had become wealthy and powerful. After another century it was the great est city in all Hellas and perhaps in the world. In 415 B. C., even Athens was humbled in a war against this new Greek power of the West, and 7,000 Athenian captives, made slaves, were cast into the vast.quarries of Syracuse to hew rock for its magnificent edifices, fragments of which remain to-day (see, also, Color Plate XIII). By the time Syracuse had overtaken Athens, Carthage had arisen in northern Africa; Rome had extended her power in Italy; the Greek world still dominated the East, and colonies were thriving in southern France and Spain. The Mediter ranean and its shores were the civilized * See, also, "A Country Where Going to America Is an Industry," by Arthur H. War ner, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for December, 1909.