The southern Italian island also evokes images of blood, suffering and hardship.
In reality, Sicily is all of this and so much more.
Situated in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and boasting fertile land and the perfect climate, it’s been a meeting place and trade centre for myriad populations, all of which have shaped its geography, architecture, language, food and religious practices, creating a mosaic of cultures woven into the same societal fabric.
Hosted by the Co.As.It Museo Italiano, ‘Viaggio in Sicilia: Un mosaico di storie’ will pay tribute to Sicily by exploring the island and its multifaceted identity beyond its stereotypes and prejudices, with the aim of understanding the contradictions which characterise it.
The three-part series will take place on August 1, 15 and 29 and will be presented in Italian by Lecturer in Italian Studies at the University of Melbourne, Antonella Cavallini.
Ms Cavallini was born in Lecco, a city in the northern Italian region of Lombardy, but lived and studied in the province of Bergamo, where she graduated in Modern Languages and Literatures.
She then moved to Sicily in the province of Ragusa, where she taught English Language and Literature for almost two decades.
In November 2015, Ms Cavallini was nominated Lecturer in Italian Studies at the University of Melbourne by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and is currently living in Melbourne as part of a nine-year teaching stint.
Ms Cavallini’s perspective is unique and valuable in that she can see Sicily through two different lenses: the lens of someone who was born and raised in northern Italy, and the lens of someone who is married to a Sicilian man and who has spent 18 years living on the southern island and become incredibly connected to everything it represents.
“I used to go to Sicily only on holidays so to me it was a perfect, marvellous place with sunny weather, beautiful beaches and nice people,” she said.
“Living there is something completely different. I met lots of lovely people and it was a great experience but in the meantime I discovered the hidden and sad aspects of Sicily.”
Ms Cavallini describes Sicily as a place of light and dark contrasts, where everything is wonderful and enchanting at a glance, but where the economic crisis has struck hard, resulting in poverty, staggering unemployment rates and a mass exodus, particularly of young people in search of a better life.
Nonetheless, the passionate teacher says that Sicily had the power to change her forever, and was a place she fell in love with, for better or for worse.
The first evening of the series, ‘L’isola del tesoro’, will explore Sicily’s rich history, travelling back thousands of years to its first inhabitants, through centuries of changes and invasions to arrive at the Sicily we know today.
Ms Cavallini will delve deep into the world of every cultural community which inhabited Sicily, even if only for a brief period, including the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spaniards, French and the controversial Kingdom of Italy.
“You can see the Unification of Italy from different points of view,” Ms Cavallini explained.
“On one side, it was a very important step because it consolidated several states which became the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. But on the other side, the House of Savoy considered Sicily and the south of Italy as a colony and they exploited it.”
The first event of the series will also explore more recent themes such as the Mafia and emigration.
The second instalment, ‘Voci dalla Sicilia’, will take people on a journey of discovery of the myriad Sicilian writers who managed to convey the splendour of their own land and all that it embodies.
Names to be mentioned include, but are not limited to, great authors of the verismo movement - Luigi Capuana, Giovanni Verga and Federico De Roberto – Nobel Prize recipient Salvatore Quasimodo and photojournalist Letizia Battaglia.
Ms Cavallini will also explore the concept of “Sicilitudine” as a metaphor of identity, of belonging to a place of light and sun, but also shadow and omertà (silence).
“This term was coined by Italian writer and politician Leonardo Sciascia and it’s a special way of living and thinking of Sicilian people about themselves and their land,” she explained.
The third and final event of the series, ‘La terra dell’approdo’, focuses on Sicily as a land which has always emanated great charm, calling on people from all corners of the globe.
An obligatory stop for explorers from England, Germany and France during the 1700s and 1800s, Sicily has become home to a new wave of migrants and a place of salvation and refuge.
“The present migrant situation calls into question the certainties of Sicily itself and the whole of Europe,” Ms Cavallini said.
“It’s a great issue for the Sicilian people, especially in these times because they’re facing their own crisis. On the one hand we see Sicilian people leaving their land and looking for a better life, and on the other hand, there are other people coming from the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, escaping from war, violence and climate change.”
Through this series of presentations, each as compelling as the next, Ms Cavallini hopes pay homage to Sicily, giving people an insight into life on the island and sharing the many aspects which make it such a unique place capable of capturing the hearts of people from far and wide.