Guide to Bouldering Sites in the Sicily Region


Bouldering Sites in the Sicily Region

Volcanic rock dominates the Sicily sites, boulder at the foot of Enta or along the sea.


Monte Enta
Monte Conca (Linguaglossa)
Aci Castello
Lipari Island

History of Sicily


Greek historians provide some detais of the inhabitants of Sicily before the 8th century. Thucydides, writing in the 5th century BC, speaks of a native people of Sicily known as Sicans, who were pushed into the southern and western parts of the island by newcomers from Italy, the Sicels (hence 'Sicilia'), who settled in the eastern region. Thucydides gives a date for the 'invasion' of some three centuries befor the first Greek settlement (i.e. about 1050), but other Greek sources suggest it was much earlier, well before the Trojan War, so perhaps 1300-1250. There is some archeological and linguistic evidence to support the arrival of newcomers from Italy in the 13th century BC, with another group known as the Auonians, named after their mythical funder Auson, arriving from central Italy perhaps in the 11th century. A third people, the Elymians, whom Thucydides tells us were refugees from Troy, are recorded as having settled in the west of Sicily.

Introduction to Sicily


Sicily lies at the crossroads of the Mediterranean. The Italian mainland is very close, divided by the narrow Straits of Messina, while the coast of North Africa is only some 250km away, a day's sailing in good conditions. Anyone passing across the Mediterranean would be likely to make landfall in Sicily, which historically gave it immense strategic value. The island's fertility also attracted settlement, with the result that periods of prosperity were interspersed with violent conflict over resources. Sicily today is a palimpsest of earlier civilizations, their remains jostling alongside each other against the backdrop of extraordinary natural beauty.

There are traces of human settlement from the Palaeolithic age (35,000-9000 BC), with the Upper Palaeolithic (18,000-9000) especially rich in sites. These show a population able to exploit a variety of habitats along with the development of burial rituals, decorative artifacts mostly in stone, and cave art. The art is concentrated in a group of caves on Levanzo and around Monte Pellegrino in the northwest of the island, with the result that some communities became settled on the coast. However, it was red deer which were the main source of food and hides: their bones make up 70 percent of remains on some sites.  

Settled agricolture, which in Sicily dates from c. 600-500 BC, appears to have been an imported change. The remains of corn, sheep and goats are found for the first time in this period. Pottery, known as Stentinello ware, from a Neolithic site near Syracuse, has impressed or incised decoration and from about 5500 is painted, copying styles from Italy. A particularly important trade until about 2500 was in obsidian from the Aeolian island of Lipari, a volcanic stone which can be easily cut and shaped to make tools.

The first extensive contact with the wider Mediterranean comes in the Mycenaean age (1600-2250 BC). The Mycenaean strongholds were in the Greek Pelpopnnese and their chieftains were successfull traders, whose presence in Sicily reached its height about 1400 BC. This is the first time that Sicily can be placed within a far-flung trading complex, with evidence of routes which stretched as far east as Rhodes and Cyprus.

A harbour site as Thapsos, near modern Syracuse, certainly grew prosperous on trade. The Mycenaean civilitation desintegrated after 1200, and Sicily, like many other part of the Mediterranean, retreated into isolation. The island's primary contact for the next three centuries was with Italy.

Phoenicians and Greeks



In the 8th century Mediterranean trade began to revive. The Phoenicians, the biblical Canaanites, from the ancient cities of the Levantine coast, are normally seen as the pioneers, probing into the western Mediterranean in search of metals with whic to pay their overlords, the Assyrians. They gave confidence to the Greeks who began following the same routes. Naxos was the first sicilian landfall for those aiming to sail round the toe of Italy from the east and it was here that settlers from Chalcis in Euboea established a base in 734. A small fertile valley gave them the means to settle and the native population appears to have been dispersed. This became the usual practice as a mass of other Greek migrants followed the Chalcidians. The Corinthians settled the best harbour of the coast, Syracuse, the very next year, while Euboeans who had earlier settled at Cumae on the west coast of Italy, they took over the harbour at Zancle (later Messina) to protect their route to Italy. So quite quickly the best harbours were taken and settlements founded. Excavations at Megara Hyblaea show how temples and an agora (a market place) on a native Greek model were planned into the early settlement.

Wtih the best sites on the east coast taken, Greeks mved along the southern coast of Sicily to found Gela (688) and Akragas (Agrigento; 580). The Sicel communities were broken up, their populations dispersed or absorbed. The Greek colonisation of Sicily was so succesful that grain was soon been exported to Greece and across to Italy to Africa. Pottery from Athens, Sparta and Corinth is found on Sicilians sites and coniage appears quite early, in hte last half of the 6th century. Settlements developed into cities with large temples and other public buildings. They sent competitors to the Olympic games and, with plenty of fertile pasture for horses, were especially succesful in chariot racing.

Yet there was trouble brewing. The Phoenicians had established their own settlements, notably Carthage on the coast of north Africa, and in Spain, which was rich in metal resources, and it was inevitable that there would be settlements on Sicily itself. At first these were no more than stating posts concentrated in the west. The most succesful Phoenician site was Motya,  a small island off the west coast (modern Mozia). It was close to Carthage, defensible (with a perimeter wall 2500m) and enjoyed good relationships with the native Elymian population. The earliest occupation dates from the late 8th century but by the 7th century there is evidence of industrial activity, in iron and dyes, and the population may have reached 16,00 in the 6th century. It was now that the Persian empire absorbed the Phoenician cities of the Levant, and gradually the western settlements developed their own indipendent empire under the control of Carthage.

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