Myths and legends in Sicily


Sicily is a land of myths and legends. Since ancient times, Sicily’s exceptional natural features have inspired popular imagination. Its territory is rich in volcanoes, snowy peaks, forests, lakes and rivers. There are beautiful landscapes surrounded by a wide and hilly hinterland with rocky shorelines and peaceful sandy inlets. The places of the myths are located along the tour of Eastern Sicily, which starts at Capo Peloro (Torre Faro). It goes through ancient mountains and seaside villages and ends at Capo Passero (Portopalo).

COLAPESCE. Messina is where the legend of Colapesce takes place. Colapesce was a fisherman who lived at the time of Frederick II and who symbolises the strong bond between every Sicilian and his homeland. The King had heard of the young man’s formidable swimming skills and challenged him to rescue some objects from the abyss, but Colapesce never surfaced again. It is said that he is still under Mount Etna, supporting one of the three columns on which Sicily stands, preventing the island from sinking into the sea.

SCYLLA and CHARYBDIS. The stretch of sea between Sicily and Calabria has always been a place full of charm and fascination. Sailing the Strait of Messina was considered particularly difficult due to the fast and irregular currents and the violent winds. This inspired the Scylla and Charybdis myth. The whirlwind of Charybdis (the one who sucks in) takes shape in front of the Lighthouse beach. The Scylla vortex (the one who tears apart) affects the Calabrian coast. In Messina, there is a magnificent representation of the two monsters in the Neptune Fountain, which is in the Regional Museum.

FAIRY MORGANA. A fascinating optical illusion known throughout the world as the ‘Fairy Morgana‘ can be observed in the Strait of Messina. Fishermen and sailors were deceived by mirages of fantastic castles or islands with changing shapes. The Normans were so fascinated by this event and a legend was born involving King Roger I of Altavilla and the fairy Morgana.

HIS MAJESTY THE ETNA. Among all the volcanoes of Sicily, Etna stands out as one of the most enchanting and evocative places on Earth. It is not surprising that it has become the setting for many legends and historical events. The Ancient Greeks believed that Etna was where Hephaestus, god of fire and metallurgy, had his smithy, and also that, under the volcano, there was the entrance to Tartarus, the ‘world of the deads’. Among the Anglo-Sicilian legends, the one with King Arthur as a protagonist tells how the Archangel Michael helped the knight to weld Excalibur with the lava of Etna.

THE ISLAND OF THE CYCLOPS. Many of the stopovers of the most famous journey of all time seem to have been in Sicily. Part of the story of Ulysses and Polyphemus as told in the Odyssey took place on the slopes of Mount Etna. Omero tells how Polyphemus was blinded by Ulysses and began to throw huge stones in the direction of the sailors. According to other fascinating legends, the true land of the Cyclops is Novara di Sicilia with its Rocca Salvatesta.

ACI AND GALATEA. Acitrezza, Acireale, Acicastello… Many small towns in the province of Catania preserve in their name the myth of Aci, the beautiful shepherd who fell in love with Galatea and was turned into a river after being killed by Polyphemus.

ARETUSA. One of the best places to visit in eastern Sicily is the Fountain of Arethusa on the island of Ortigia, it’s in the oldest part of Syracuse and its name comes from the nymph who was turned into a spring by the goddess Diana.

THE ISLAND OF THE CURRENTS. According to the legend, the sailors of Ulysses sailed in the waters that surround the southernmost point of Sicily. The brave Trojan hero Aeneas landed on the island of the Currents at Capo Passero. Myths and legends also characterise Sicily’s coastal plains.

THE RAPE OF PERSEPHONE. In the Rocca di Cerere Geopark, a few kilometres away from Enna, close to Lake Pergusa, the mythical rape of Persephone (or Kore) took place. Persephone was the daughter of Demeter and Zeus and she was kidnapped by Hades, the god of the Underworld. Desperate, Demeter pleads for the help of Zeus, threatening to no longer let the land grow any fruit. Hades does not want to leave Persephone and tricks her into eating some grains of a pomegranate, preventing her from coming back to the world of the living. But Zeus allows Persephone to return to the earth for eight months, and then she will spend the rest of the year in the Underworld. Hence the changing of the seasons in Sicily, renowned for its mild weather.

THE TRUVATURE. Other myths are related to the mystery of the Truvature, which we often find in traditional tales with Giufà as the main character.

THE AEOLIAN ISLANDS, HOME OF AEOLUS. In Ancient Greek mythology, the Aeolian archipelago was considered to be the home of the god Aeolus, the king of the winds. He was charged by Zeus to guard the jars that contained the winds.

THE MOUNTAINS OF DIONYSUS. According to Greek mythology, Dionysus chose Sicily as his home. The God of wine and drunkenness was celebrated by the bacchants in the Nebrodi mountains through ancient mystery rituals.

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