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Sicily

Sicily, also known as Sicilia, located off the southern tip of mainland Italy (Italia), is the largest island in the Mediterranean sea. Sicilian culture is largely rural and agriculture. Its citizens are more likely to identify themselves as Sicilian rather than Italian, and feel they have more in common with the people of southern Italy and Greece than with those from others parts of Italy.

Sicily has a population of about five million. Due to its strategic location, it has been occupied by many different peoples, including the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans and Lombards, each of whom has contributed to the unique Sicilian cuisine, arts, architecture and language.

Sicilians tend to eat a lot of fish and other sea food, along with fresh vegetables and fruit such as aubergines, peppers and apricots. Sicily is also famous for its ice creams, pastries and other sweet dishes such as cannoli, a tube of fried pastry dough with a sweet filling of ricotta cheese and other ingredients. Arab influences can be seen in the use of such spices as nutmeg, clove, cinnamon and saffron. The Normans brought with them a love of meat dishes; the Spanish brought cocoa, maize, turkey and tomatoes from the New World; and the Greeks contributed a fondness for fish, olives and beans.

Architecture in Sicily is very diverse with the remains of ancient Phoenician towns, Greek theatres and temples, Roman villas and palaces, Norman, Byzantine and Baroque churches, and Moorish mosques. Many of the small towns are built on tops of hills - the best known example is Taormina, a beautiful medieval town on the east coast with wonderful views of Mount Etna and a near complete Greek/Roman theatre.

The Sicilian language or dialect (lu sicilianu) is another distinctive feature of Sicily. Like Italian, it is a descendant of Latin, with influences from many other languages, including Phoenician, Greek, Arabic, Norman French, Lombard, Catalan and Spanish. Sicilian is used mainly in informal situations in families and between friends. Italians from other regions only understand it to some extent.

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