trinacria bella how sicily was bornAgriculture, together with fishing, have been among the major activities  performed by Sicilians, and their conquerors, since ancient times.
Under a sun that shines for 6-8 months per year and a fertile territory, most of volcanic origin, with varying microclimates and altitudes, from the Iblei Mountains to the Madonie and Etna, to the valleys and plateaus along the beaches, Sicily allows for all types of cultivation. It was for this  reason that the ancient Greeks decided to venture to opposite shores of  the Mediterranean and  establish different colonies on the island, many  of which, such as Siracusa, or Syracuse once capital of Magna Grecia,  or “Great Greece”, became so important that their names persist today. The first indigenous inhabitants of the island, of 3000 B.C., the Sicani,  and the Siculi, were dedicated to the foraging of wild fruits of the  island, nourishing themselves with berries.

SIcilyart_maschera fenicia Mothya copy 2

We do not know much about the culinary habits of the Phoenicians,  originally from what we call Lebanon today, who were skilled sailors  that journeyed along the entire Mediterranean, conducting business with  all types of products, and founding important cities such as Palermo  (which means “port city”).

While the Phoenicians were able fishermen, they were not, however, great cultivators. Despite this, we most likely owe them for the arrival of the olive and fig plants to our island.We know that the Phoenicians surely ate boiled greens, dried fruit, and fried fish. Remnants of their civilization are still visible at Motya, a small island near the coast of Marsala.


Greek Vase

 In 500 B.C., the Carthaginians of North Africa established their first settlements, but they were not the only ones. In fact, during nearly the exact same period on the southeastern coast of Sicily, between Syracuse, Naxos and Taormina, the Greeks arrived. Right away, the Greeks found this land ideal for the cultivation of their favorite plants: the strong olive and the vine.War broke out almost immediately between the Greeks and the Carthaginians, but lets leave that part for the historians.



ArchesrtatoVery close to, in Gela a great Siceliot-Greek poet, Archestrato of Gela (IV century BC), wrote “Hedypatheia” or “Gastronomy”, the first Poem of Gourmet.  As a young poet Archestratus was disciple of the most famous Epicurus, becoming an Expert in the art of pleasure. In his poem Archestratus tells of his long journeys in search of the best food and the finest wines. It also deals with the bread, fish, the production and storage of wine and food. It focuses mainly on fish, indicating the best quality, the places of origin, the most famous species and the specific fishing seasons. The first gourmet book in the world.See more also  Wine Trails of Sicily >>



Ulysses and Polifemo mosaic copy 2


 “The wine that came forth was strong and generous, and took well to transport, as compared to much of the must that came from other provinces“, a fact well-known to Odysseus (referred to as Ulysses in Latin).

Ulysses, the principal protagonist of Homer’s Odyssey (book IX), disembarks at Sicily, where his hunger for knowledge, and food, leads him and his companions to battle with Polyphemus. According to Greek and Roman mythology, Polyphemus was a cyclopes: a giant man with just one eye. The cyclopes were blacksmiths, and helpers of “Efesto” or Vulcan, who most likely lived in widely dispersed caves in the vicinity of Etna Volcano (Mount Etna has been enlisted as World Heritage Site (July 2013) comprises the most strictly protected and scientifically important area of Mount Etna, and forms part of theParco dell’Etna” The Regional Nature Park).

Etna in Spingtime copy Ulysses and his men, weary from their journey at sea, came upon this territory and took refuge in one of the caves, where they feasted on all the food they could find, and rested until the monster, and cannibal, Polyphemus, returns home.Upon discovering the trespassers, Polyphemus imprisons them in the cave, making no secret of his plan to eat them for dinner.


ner_masUlysses knew that the terrible monster would not be beaten by force, but by wit.Ulysses sent his men to collect the grapes of a most potent wine, probably Nerello Mascalese, a native grape which grows plentifully in those parts, and convinced Polyphemus to drink their juice, offering him the nectar of the gods, that is, wine.Polyphemus, unknowing of the consequence, drank as much of the delicious nectar as they could extract. He adored this new-found pleasure, and, between mouthfuls of bread and cheese, he gulped the wine until he was quite intoxicated, and feel asleep without securing his prisoners.