Lexicon of Sicily, from Mafia to Monreale

Sicilian encyclopedia for travel and knowledge

Mafia. The word "mafia" is derived from the old Sicilian adjective "mafiusu" which has its roots in the Arabic mahjas, meaning "aggressive boasting, bragging". Roughly translated it means "swagger", but can also be translated as "boldness, bravado". In reference to a man, "mafiusu" in 19th-century Sicily was ambiguous, signifying a bully, arrogant but also fearless, enterprising, and proud, according to scholar Diego Gambetta. The connotation of the word with the criminal secret society was made by the 1863 play I mafiusi di la Vicaria, 'The Beautiful (people) of Vicaria', by Giuseppe Rizzotto and Gaetano Mosca, which is about criminal gangs in the Palermo prison. The words "Mafia" or "mafiusi" (plural for "mafiusu") are never mentioned in the play, and were probably put in the title because it would add local flair. The association between "mafiusi" and criminal gangs was made by the association the play's title made with the criminal gangs that were new to Sicilian and Italian society at the time. Consequently, the word "mafia" was generated from a fictional source loosely inspired by the real thing and was used by outsiders to describe it. The use of the term "mafia" was subsequently taken over in the Italian state's early reports on the phenomenon. The word "mafia" made its first official appearance in 1865 in a report by the prefect of Palermo, the marquis Filippo Antonio Gualterio. Leopoldo Franchetti, an Italian deputy who travelled to Sicily and who wrote one of the first authoritative reports on the mafia in 1876, described the designation of the term 'Mafia': "the term mafia found a class of violent criminals ready and waiting for a name to define them, and, given their special character and importance in Sicilian society, they had the right to a different name from that defining vulgar criminals in other countries". Some observers have seen "mafia" as a set of positive attributes deeply rooted in popular culture, as a "way of being", as illustrated in the definition by the Sicilian ethnographer, Giuseppe Pitrè, at the end of the 19th century: "Mafia is the consciousness of one's own worth, the exaggerated concept of individual force as the sole arbiter of every conflict, of every clash of interests or ideas." Many Sicilians did not regard these men as criminals but as role models and protectors, given that the state appeared to offer no protection of the poor and weak. As late as the 1950s, the funeral epitaph of the legendary boss of Villalba, Calogero Vizzini, stated that "his 'mafia' was not criminal, but stood for respect of the law, defense of all rights, greatness of character. It was love." Here, "mafia" means something like pride, honor, or even social responsibility: an attitude, not an organization. Likewise, in 1925, the former Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando stated in the Italian senate that he was proud of being "mafioso", because that word meant honorable, noble, generous.

Marsala is a seaport city located in the Province of Trapani on the island of Sicily in Italy. The low coast on which it is situated is the westernmost point of the island. It is best known as the source of Marsala wine. Marsala occupies the site of Lilybaeum, the principal stronghold of the Carthaginians in Sicily, founded by Himilco in 396 BC after the abandonment of Motya. Neither Pyrrhus nor the Romans were able to reduce it by siege, but it was surrendered to the latter in 241 BC at the end of the First Punic War. In the later wars it was a starting point for the Roman expeditions against Carthage, and under Roman rule it enjoyed considerable prosperity. It obtained municipal rights from Augustus and became a colony under either Pertinax or Septimius Severus. The Saracens gave it its present name "Marsala" which is deriving from the Arab "Marsa Allah" (port of Allah) or "Marsa Ali" ("port of Ali" intended also as "great port" as Ali in Arabian language is synonymous of "great" and the ancient harbour of Lylibaeum was enormous). The ancient harbor that lay on the northeast was destroyed by Charles V to prevent its occupation by pirates. The modern harbor lies to the southeast.
On May 11, 1860, Giuseppe Garibaldi and his "thousand" landed at Marsala and began his campaign to overthrow Bourbon rule in Sicily as a step toward Italy's unification.

Mattanza. The ritual of killing Tuna in Sicily. In Sicily they catch Bluefin tuna in a traditional festival known as the mattanza which takes place in May and June each year. A huge trap (called the tonnara) leads the fish into a chamber, called la "camera della morte", which has a net floor that can be raised. The fish are then brought to the surface and killed. During this festival, while the tuna are being caught, "Tonnarotti" sing special songs called "scialome" which have been passed down for so long that much of the meaning has now been lost. The term 'mattanza' comes from the old Spanish word, "matar", while other words, such as "rais" (the head fisherman of the mattanza), are of Arabic origin. There are only a few genuine mattanzas left now, and these are all to be found to the west of Sicily, among the Egadi Islands.

Mazara del Vallo. Still profoundly Arabic in its urban layout, Mazara del Vallo grew up and developed around its canal-harbour, which now contains the most imposing fishing fleet in Italy.

From the cathedral, an authentic temple-museum, to the precious Diocesan Museum, not to mention Norman and baroque vestiges, the town has a history rich in monuments and works of art. From the geographical point of view, the town of Mazara del Vallo lies between Capo Feto and Capo Granitola and looks out on the Channel of Sicily. Its territory, which is highly interesting in terms of culture and nature, is crossed by the Mazaro river; this river and the Delia make up its hydrographic network. Thanks to the variety of natural characteristics, on its agricultural surfaces we find many different crops, though there is a prevalence of vineyards and olive plantations, while there is not much woodland or Mediterranean scrub. The coast is not uniform. It is characterised by rocky sea beds, rich in marine biocoenosis, to the south-east of the town. By contrast, the south-western coast, to the right of the estuary of the Mazaro river, is of a sandy type , and thanks to a particularly favourable overall environmental situation , in it there is a "prairie" of Neptunegrass (Posidonia oceanica), which is luxuriant and big, accounting for the richness of the Mazara sea environment. THE BRONZE STATUE OF THE SATYR: Some have imagined in an attitude of sculptural defiance of the seas and the winds, on the prow or the mast of a ship which, while it furrowed the waters of the Sicilian Channel, lost in the abysses accidentally or in a shipwreck; others, instead have thought that it was war booty; lastly, some have thought it was part of the precious cargo of an "antiquarian" of the time that, on a commission or otherwise, was handling works of art for a rich gentleman of the day. If doubts wrap round its functional placing, as well as the dating and the artistic-cultural attribution, one thing that is certain is its identification in terms of imagery, even though, in the euphoria of the discovery, people hastily spoke about Aeolus. In fact, it is certain that the bronze statue "caught" in March 1998 by a Mazara fishing boat in the sea between Pantelleria and Africa represents a Satyr. It seems quit likely that the Satyr was part of the cargo of a ship that sank between Pantelleria and Cap Bon in the 3rd or 2nd century B.C. The rest of the precious cargo still lies at a depht of almost five hundred metres.

Messina., capital of Messina prov., NE Sicily, on the Strait of Messina, opposite the Italian mainland. It is a busy seaport and a commercial and light industrial center. Manufactures include processed food, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and construction materials. Founded (late 8th cent. B.C.) by Greek colonists and named Zancle, the city was captured (5th cent. B.C.) by Anaxilas of Rhegium and renamed Messana. It became involved in several wars, particularly against Syracuse and Carthage, and was taken in 282 B.C. by mercenaries called Mamertines. The Romans answered an appeal for help from the Mamertines and intervened in Sicily, thus precipitating the first of the Punic Wars. Messina was subsequently allied with Rome, and it shared the history of the rest of Sicily. The city was conquered by the Arabs in the late 9th cent. A.D. but was liberated by the Normans in 1061. It developed a thriving silk industry (which declined in the 18th cent.). Messina later came under the rule of the Angevins, the Aragonese, and the Spanish Bourbons. A heroic insurrection against the Bourbons took place from 1774 to 1778. Garibaldi took Messina in July, 1860, but the Bourbon garrison resisted in the citadel until Mar., 1861. The city suffered a severe plague in 1743 and major earthquakes in 1783 and 1908. The earthquake of Dec. 28, 1908, destroyed 90% of Messina's buildings, including fine churches and palaces, and cost about 80,000 lives; afterward the city was completely rebuilt in conformity with standards for quake-resistant construction. In World War II, the Sicilian campaign ended with the fall of Messina to the Allies on Aug. 17, 1943. Of interest in the city are the Norman-Romanesque cathedral (rebuilt after 1908) and the National Museum. Messina has a university, founded in 1548.

Milazzo is situated on the north coast of Sicily, Italy, 20km west of Messina. Is it a small town, mainly used as a transit point for the Aeolian Islands.

Modica, town in Ragusa provincia, southeastern Sicily, Italy, at the confluence of two mountain torrents on the south margin of the Monti (mountains) Iblei, just south of Ragusa city. On the site of a Bronze Age (and perhaps Stone Age) fortress (c. 4000 BC), it emerged as Motyca, a town of the Siculi, an ancient Sicilian tribe (c. 400 BC).

Montevago in the Provincia di Agrigento, located about 60 kilometres southwest of Palermo and about 70 kilometres northwest of Agrigento. Montevago was founded in 1636 by Rutilio Xirotta. !968 the town was completely destroied by an eartquake and than rebuildet just on the free fields beside. You still can visit the ruins.

Mount Etna Stratovolcano in Italy. Mount Etna is an active stratovolcano on the east coast of Sicily, Italy, in the Province of Catania, between Messina and Catania. It lies above the convergent plate margin between the African Plate and the Eurasian Plate.

Monreale. is a town in the province of Palermo, in Sicily, Italy, on the slope of Monte Caputo, overlooking the very fertile valley called “La Conca d’oro” (the Golden Shell), famed for its orange, olive and almond trees, the produce of which is exported in large quantities. The town has a population of approximately 30,000, and it is located 15 km (12 mi) south of Palermo. After the occupation of Palermo by the Arabs in 831 the Bishop of Palermo was forced to move his seat outside the capital. The role of the new cathedral was assigned to a modest little church, Aghia Kiriaki in the village nearby which was later called Monreale. After the Norman conquest in 1072 Christians got back the old city cathedral. Probably this role as temporary ecclesiastical centre played a part in King William II’s decision to build here his famous cathedral. The town was for long a mere village, and start its expansion when the Norman Kings of Sicily chose the area as their hunting resort, building here a palace (probably identifiable with the modern Town Hall). Under King William II the large monastery of Benedictines coming from Cava de’ Tirreni, with its church, was founded and provided with a large asset. It is noteworthy that the new edifice had also an important defensive destination. Monreale was the seat of the metropolitan archbishop of Sicily, which thenceforth exerted a large influence over Sicily. The Cathedral of Monreale is one of the greatest extant examples of Norman architecture in the world. It was begun in 1174 by William II, and in 1182 the church, dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, was, by a bull of Pope Lucius III, elevated to the rank of a metropolitan cathedral. The church is a national monument of Italy and one of the most important attractions of Sicily. The archiepiscopal palace and monastic buildings on the south side were of great size and magnificence, and were surrounded by a massive precinct wall, crowned at intervals by twelve towers. This has been mostly rebuilt, and but little now remains except ruins of some of the towers, a great part of the monks’ dormitory and frater, and the splendid cloister, completed about 1200. The cloister of the abbey of Monreale. The latter is well preserved, and is one of the finest Italian cloisters both for size and beauty of detail now extant. It is about 2200 m², with pointed arches decorated with diaper work, supported on pairs of columns in white marble, 216 in all, which were alternately plain and decorated by bands of patterns in gold and colors, made of glass tesserae, arranged either spirally or vertically from end to end of each shaft. The marble capitals are each carved with foliage, biblical scenes and allegories, no two being alike. At one angle, a square pillared projection contains the marble fountain or monks’ lavatory, evidently the work of Muslim sculptors. The church’s plan is a mixture of Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic arrangement. The nave is like an Italian basilica, while the large triple-apsed choir is like one of the early three-apsed churches, of which so many examples still exist in Syria and other Oriental countries. It is, in fact, like two quite different churches put together endwise. The basilican nave is wide, with narrow aisles. Monolithic columns of grey oriental granite (except one, which is of cipolin marble), on each side support eight pointed arches much stilted. The capitals of these (mainly Corinthian) are also of the classical period. There is no triforium, but a high clerestory with wide two-light windows, with simple tracery like those in the nave-aisles and throughout the church, which give sufficient light. The other half, Eastern in two senses, is both wider and higher than the nave. It also is divided into a central space with two aisles, each of the divisions ending at the east with an apse. The roofs throughout are of open woodwork very low in pitch, constructionally plain, but richly decorated with color, now mostly restored. At the west end of the nave are two projecting towers, with a narthex (entrance) between them. A large open atrium, which once existed at the west, is now completely destroyed, having been replaced by a Renaissance portico by Giovanni Domenico and Fazio Gagini (1547-1569). Although not so refined as mosaics in Cefalù and the Palazzo dei Normanni, the cathedral interior nevertheless contains the largest cycle of Byzantine mosaics extant in Italy. It is, however, the large extent (6,500 m²) of the impressive glass mosaics covering the interior which make this church so splendid. With the exception of a high dado, made of marble slabs with bands of mosaic between them, the whole interior surface of the walls, including soffits and jambs of all the arches, is covered with minute mosaic-pictures in bright colors on a gold ground. The mosaic pictures are arranged in tiers, divided by horizontal and vertical bands. In parts of the choir there are five of these tiers of subjects or single figures one above another. The half dome of the central apse has a colossal half-length figure of Christ, with a seated Virgin and Child below; the other apses have full-length figures of St Peter and St Paul. Inscriptions on each picture explain the subject or saint represented; these are in Latin, except some few which are in Greek. The subjects in the nave begin with scenes from the Book of Genesis, illustrating the Old Testament types of Christ and His scheme of redemption, with figures of those who prophesied and prepared for His coming. Around the lower tier and the choir are subjects from the New Testament, chiefly representing Christ’s miracles and suffering, with apostles, evangelists and other saints. The design, execution and choice of subjects all appear to be of Byzantine origin, the subjects being selected from the Menologium drawn up by the emperor Basil II in the 10th century. In the central apse at Monreale, behind the high altar, is a fine marble throne for the archbishop. This position of the throne is a survival of the early basilican arrangement, when the apse and altar were at the west end. In that case the celebrant stood behind the altar at mass, and looked over it eastwards towards the people. On the north side, in front of the high altar, is another similar throne for the use of the king. The tomb of William I of Sicily (the founder’s father), a magnificent porphyry sarcophagus contemporary with the church, under a marble pillared canopy, and the founder William II’s tomb, erected in 1575, were both shattered by a fire, which in 1811 broke out in the choir, injuring some of the mosaics, and destroying all the fine walnut choir-fittings, the organs, and most of the choir roof. The tombs were rebuilt, and the whole of the injured part of the church restored a few years after the fire. On the north of the choir are the tombs of Margaret of Navarre, wife of William I, and her two sons Roger and Henry, together with an urn containing the viscera of Saint Louis of France, who died in 1270. The pavement of the triple choir, though much restored, is a specimen of marble and porphyry mosaic in opus alexandrinum, with signs of Arab influence in its main lines. The mosaic pavement of the nave was completed in the 16th century, and has disks of porphyry and granite with marble bands intermingled with irregular lines. Two baroque chapels were added in the 17th and 18th centuries, which are shut off from the rest of the church. The bronze doors of the mosaic-decorated portal on the left side was executed by Barisano da Trani in 1179.