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Map of Sicily

Sicily is an island in the Mediterranean Sea, and is part of Italy. It is separated from the Italian mainland by the Straits of Messina; there are plans to build a bridge across the straits. Sicily is the largest Mediterranean island, with an area of 9,817 square miles (25,426 km2). The capital city is Palermo; other major centers include Catania, Siracusa (Syracuse), and Messina. The active volcano Mount Etna is in north-eastern Sicily.

In ancient times it was the site of numerous important Greek colonies, including Syracuse, where Pythagoras lived. It's conquest by the Romans resulted in its adoption of the Latin language, from which its current language is descended - opinion is divided as to whether Sicilian is a dialect of Italian, or sufficiently distinct to be a separate language.

In the ninth century, it was conquered from the Byzantine Empire by the Fatimids - soon it became an independent kingdom under the Kalbid dynasty.

In the 10th century it was conquered by the Normans and became an important center of art and commerce - Norman rule was tolerant and made full use of its educated Muslim populace.

In the 13th century it was conquered by Aragon, and was thereafter ruled by various Hapsburg dynasties until its unification in 1734 with the Bourbon dynasty of Naples.

In 1860 it became part of the unified kingdom of Italy.

In 1943, British, American and other allied forces landed in Sicily, an action which prompted the fall of Mussolini's Fascist government. However, German troops were able to reinforce the island and made a stubborn resistance.