We’ll begin with Sicily, the famous island floating at the ‘toe’ of Italy’s boot and the largest of all of the country’s regions. Sicily has a long history of different rulers and inhabitants, but the first significant colonizers were the Greeks who invaded the island in the 8th century B.C.
The Greek rule of Sicily ended in 212BC when Roman troops invaded and took control of much of the island. After six centuries of Roman rule on the island, Sicily was invaded again and fell under both Byzantine and Arabic rule.
In 1071 Sicily became an independent kingdom ruled by the Normans, and enjoyed many years of economic and political prosperity. The influence of both Arab and Byzantine inhabitants was still a big part of the island’s culture, which can still be seen in much of Sicily’s art and architecture.
Sicily fell under the rule of several different other countries over the next century, eventually becoming a Spanish island until the 1700s. Naples and Sicily merged together as a kingdom during Bourbon rule, and this lasted until 1860 when the unification of Italy began. In 1946 Sicily was established as an autonomous region of the country of Italy, but it remains an island with more of a Mediterranean and Greek influence.
The Amalfi Coast is another small part of Italy that has a very colourful history, with wealthy Romans being the first to build villas along the coast and into the cliffs. The area declared itself an independent republic in 839 AD and grew from a quiet Mediterranean fishing village into a prosperous trading hub.
The towns along the coast grew rich economically and culturally, influenced by the traders visiting from the Mediterranean, the Greek Empire, Africa and the East. Sailors from the Amalfi Coast are credited with being the first people to invent and use the compass at the start of the 13th century as a method of navigating the oceans, which was quickly adopted all over the world.
The good fortune and prosperity of the Amalfi Coast continued into the 1300s, as it became the first place in Europe to produce paper and thrived as an intellectual hub on the coast as well as an artistic one. However, disaster struck when a plague hit in 1306 and 1348, and by the end of the 14th century, the area was ruled by the Kingdom of Naples.
For hundreds of years, the Amalfi Coast remained a quiet and isolated part of the world until wealthy Europeans began the tradition of The Grand Tour and started to rediscover more remote parts of Europe. Writers, artists and musicians flocked to the coast along with regular travellers to enjoy and get inspired by the area’s wild coastal beauty, which put the Amalfi Coast firmly on the map as a beautiful holiday destination.
Whilst the Amalfi Coast’s history is fascinating, and there are plenty of remains that show traces of past civilizations, Sicily is the better choice if you’re a fan of history and want to see a huge range of ancient monuments, archaeological sites and ruins.