The Trinacria

The Trinacria The word or term Trinacria means "triangle" as for the shape of Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean.  The Greeks called it Trinakrias, the Romans called it Trinacrium, meaning "star with 3 points".  Today its known as Sicily, or Sicilia in Italian.

Below is a mosaic of the Trinacria which dates back to the 3rd century BC.  The photo appears in the book TRINAKIE Breve storia semiseria della Sicilia by Nino Cirnigliaro with photos by Ciccio Gurrieri, Utopia Edizioni, 1994, Ragusa. The Greeks circumnavigated the island and noted the three capes, Peloro (Province of Messina), Passero (Province of Siracusa), and Lilibeo (Province of Trapani), forming three points of a triangle in the northeast, the southeast, and the west. Taken by its beauty, they likened its shores to the legs of a woman and represented the island with the TRINAKIE.

The head in the center was that of Medusa, whose hair was turned into snakes by the outraged goddess Athene. In their wisdom, the Sicilian parliament replaced the Medusa head with one that is less threatening to the innocent onlooker who, after all, should not be anticipating being turned to stone.

Sicilian Ancient History

Through the centuries, the Island of Sicily was occupied by virtually every nation surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Every European nation that invaded North Africa or the Holy Land and conversely, every North African nation that decided to invade Southern Europe, used Sicily as a stepping stone. The Island is strategically located between the two continents.

Its earliest known inhabitants were the Elymi, Sicani, and Siculi. From the 8th to the 5th Century B.C., Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Greeks established settlements on the Island. In the 5th Century B.C., the Greeks faced a vigorous challenge from the Carthaginians, who by the end of that century controlled half the Island. In the mid-3rd Century the Romans intervened against the Carthaginians on Sicily, precipitating the First Punic War (264-241 BC).

After the victory, Rome gained control of most of the Island, and Sicily became known as the Breadbasket of Rome. Sicily was taken by the Vandals and then the Goths in the 5th Century A.D. In 532 it came under Byzantine rule, and in the 9th Century fell to the Muslim Arabs. The Arabs were then driven out by the Normans in the late 11th Century. The Norman Roger II was recognized (1139) by Pope Innocent II as King of Sicily and of the Norman territories in southern Italy.

Through the marriage of Constance, heiress of the last Norman king, to Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, Sicily, in 1194, was passed to the Hohenstaufen dynasty.  Rule passed to their son, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. After the death of Frederick II (1250), rule was passed to the Angevin Charles I (1266) as a papal vassal.

Charles' oppressive rule provoked the Sicilian Vespers (1282), a revolt in which the Sicilians chose Peter III of Aragon as their king. Although the Aragonese secured control of Sicily, the Angevins retained Naples, and wars between the two continued until 1373.

For more on the Sicilian Vespers click here

The Aragonese allowed Sicily considerable local autonomy, but this policy was reversed after the unification of Spain and the accession to the Spanish throne of the Habsburg dynasty (early 16th Century). Sicily passed briefly to the house of Savoy (1713) and then to the Austrian Habsburgs (1720); but in 1734, during the War of the Polish Succession, both Sicily and Naples were conquered by the Spanish Bourbon Prince Charles. When Charles succeeded (1759) to the Spanish throne (as Charles III), Sicily and Naples passed to his son Ferdinand. After the Napoleonic Wars, Ferdinand formally combined his realms as the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (1816).

In 1860, Giuseppe Garibaldi took Sicily, which then joined the Kingdom of Sardinia and ultimately became part of united Italy.

As indicated by this history, except perhaps during the reign of Frederick II (1220-1250), Sicily never had itís own form of government. It was always governed by an invading nation.

Thus, the Sicilian architecture, language, bloodline and music are a composite or mosaic influenced by each nation that occupied it. The easterly part of the Island has many Greek temple ruins which evidences that nationís presence. The Arabic architecture in and around Palermo is overlaid with a Norman Gothic motif. Certain cities bear names reminiscent of the Arabic occupation. For example, the seaport city of Marsala on the western coast, noted for its Marsala Wine, was originally named, "Mars al Allah" - "the seaport of God." Similarly, the city named Alcantara, located near Catania, translates to "bridge". Inland, the cities of Caltagirone and Caltanisetta, to name just two, also are Arabic in origin. The prefix "Calta" translates to "fort".

The Sicilian language is embroidered with the ancient tongues of its conquerors. For example, the word "coffin" in Sicilian is "tabbuto" taken from the Arabic "tabut"; the words "talia", "taliari", "taliata" meaning to look, to look at and glance are derived from the Arabic "talar". "Vossia" in Sicilian is used in referring to a person with respect, versus the vulgar term "tu". This word is Spanish in origin taken from "vuestra seŮoria". There are two adverbs in the Sicilian language, "susu" meaning up or above and "iusu" which means down, downstairs or below. These again, were probably taken from the Spanish. As possible proof, there is a monastery located in the southern part of Spain near the village of Rioja. The monastery was built on the side of a mountain on two levels. This monastery is referred to as "El Monasterio Suzo" and "El Monasterio Yuzo", denoting the two levels. Other examples too numerous to list would show a French and Greek influence.

Contrary to contemporary belief, Sicilian is not a dialect. It is a separate language because it has a written literature. The differences between Sicilian and Italian are similar to the differences between Spanish and Portuguese. Native Sicilian speakers can understand perhaps 50 percent of Italian. Since the unification of Italy, stemming from the "liberation" of Sicily by Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1860, and the march on Rome by Mussolini in 1922, the Sicilian language has been slandered, vilified, and threatened with extinction, even though Dante acknowledged that the Sicilians were first in literature at the court of Frederick II in Palermo in the 13th Century.

The Sicilian bloodline, basically, is not Italian; it is a mixture of the nationalities that occupied the Island over the centuries. In observing the features of current day Sicilian descendants, one will note a range of features from dark hair, dark eyes and swarthy complexion reminiscent of the Carthaginians, Phoenicians and Arabs to blond hair, blue eyes and fair skin typical of the Greek and Norman influence.

Classic Sicilian music is written with an Arabesque theme. This music, largely written in minor keys, has a melancholy overtone much akin to an Arabic Muslim chant. A good example of this type of music is the "Godfather Theme". If one carefully listens to these melancholy refrains, one could almost see and hear a lone "Aleebeadden" standing in a tower, chanting to the rising sun, greeting the new born day.

As each invader took over the affairs of government, they promised a better existence to the population. In reality, with the possible exception under the rule of Frederick II, each succeeding invader was worse than the preceding. The Island, both in natural resources and population, was continually raped, pillaged and plundered. Thus, it became a way of life to distrust strangers, with sanctity and trust found only in the family unit.

Towns and cities kept to their own. Families consistently married within the town or city domain. Eventually, bloodlines spliced and re-spliced within the same family units. Over the centuries, it became common practice for cousins to intermarry. It was safer to marry known blood rather than to gamble on a stranger.

Thus, inherently, strong family ties were established.

Now, to pursue our search further, shall we become "Pescatori" and go fishing in Sant' Elia and it's adjoining communities or travel the mountains to Montemaggiore