The island of Sicily is replete with reminders of Islamic presence. From street names influenced by the Arabic language to architectural wonders that were once used as mosques, traces of Islamic History can be found by those who explore thoughtfully.
Lasting over two centuries, the island of Sicily was a Muslim stronghold between the ninth and eleventh centuries. As you walk into the Palermo Cathedral, you’ll be able to locate a Qur’anic inscription on a column at the far left entrance. This and many other remnants act as strong reminders that many buildings were once home to Islamic places of worship and learning.
Why Empires Settled in Sicily?
Invasions and conquests were frequent ordeals on the island of Sicily, which is why it fast became a melting pot for many cultures and religions. Located between the Italian peninsula and North Africa, the island boasts mountainous surroundings and subtropical weather all year round. With many water springs and agricultural advantages, it seems that everyone was greedy to get their hands on a slice of this island.
Today, Sicily is home to a sizeable Muslim population largely from Bangladesh and other South Asian countries. With a foundation of multiculturalism, the island has done remarkably well in accepting outsiders. Although many may be unaware of the history and heritage of Muslims and Islam, the one thing we can all agree on is that the people of Sicily have always been friendly and hospitable.
An Island For Muslim Travellers
Muslim Travellers will be glad to know that Palermo – the capital of Sicily – offers several Halal restaurants and mosques as well as historic attractions to satisfy your inner curiosity. With a friendly Muslim community, Muslim tourists from around the world are flocking to this island. From Afghan rice dishes to Turkish kebabs, you’ll also be able to find many Indian restaurants. As Bangladeshi Muslims have been selling in Palermo since the 1980s, visitors will find some Indian dishes infused with Italian herbs and spices.
For those looking to explore beyond the capital, Catania is a great option for those looking for ancient ruins amidst spectacular landscapes. Located near the majestic Mount Etna, Catania is a popular spot for many holidaymakers. Equipped with halal food and several mosques, Catania is a great option for those looking to explore beyond the coastline.
Following The Traces of Islamic History
One of the best parts of visiting Sicily is tracing the many remnants of Islamic influence.
The Cappella della Santissima Trinità in Palermo is visited by many as the ceiling structure’s design was influenced by muqarnas – an important part of Islamic architecture. Similar wooden designs can be found on the ceiling at Cappella Palatina. With arches designed by the Fatimids and geometric patterns scattered throughout the structure, the Cappella Palatina is the perfect example of the amalgamation of religions.
Another interesting find I the Norman Palace La Cuba. As you gaze up at the top of the outer wall, you’ll be surprised to find the Kufic inscription that decorates this part of the building. Whilst the structure was not developed for religious purposes, it does a fantastic job is showing off Fatimid influence.
Folks also make it a point to visit La Martorana to be inspired by the Qur’anic inscription on one of its columns. The Cathedral of Palermo also features a small-sized Qur’anic inscription on one of its columns as you enter the building.
For those looking to get off the beaten track, the ancient city of Segesta is well worth a visit. While many visit the place to marvel at the Temple of Segesta and the Ancient Theatre, the remains of a 12th-century mosque nearby often go unnoticed. Constricted during the Norman period, the remains of this mosque have been recorded as the only Islamic structure that survives in Sicily.
Like this, there are many other remnants of Islamic History throughout the island. With Sicily being a tolerant, harmonious and beautiful island, we recommend visitors begin their trip in Palermo before exploring the vast history of this sought-after island.
Main Image – Jacek Dylag, Unsplash