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The History of Sicily

The Sicilian Vespers (1282 - 1302)

How do you pronounce "Cicero"?

If you mispronounced it in Sicily in 1282, you'd have been in serious trouble! Why, you may be asking. Well, it's a long and complicated part of Sicilian history, but to cut a long story short, Cicero was the word Sicilians used to unmask their French (Angevin) enemies during the Sicilian Vespers, one of the island's most well-known historical events. It all started on Easter Monday as the bells were ringing out, calling the faithful to Vespers. An insult from a French soldier directed at a Sicilian lady was the straw that broke the camel's back. Since 1266, in fact, the Angevin French had been ruling Sicily with an iron rod, imposing high taxes and generally insulting and mistreating the local population at will.

As rioting broke out in the streets of Palermo, the French were massacred in their hundreds. News quickly travelled around the island and the revolt became evermore widespread until the entire island became practically free of Angevin rule.

The last stagglers of the Angevin army were given shelter in the Castle of Sperlinga by the townsfolk. They lasted a year. Testament to this kindness is testified to by a phrase engraved into the walls: "Quod Siculis placuit sola Sperlinga negavit" (Sperlinga alone refused what pleased the Sicilians).

On hearing the news, the King of Naples, and therefore Sicily, Charles of Anjou, was furious. War was announced and the Sicilians, not having an army of their own appealed to various sponsors for protection.

They made rather a bad miscalculation by asking the Pope for aid - his reply, so it is said, was to excommunicate the entire island. Eventually, however, after the inevitable twists and turns, plots and counterplots, the Sicilians turned to Peter III, King of Aragon, who accepted to take Sicily into his kingdom and launch a war against the Angevin Kings of Naples that would last 20 years. And so started 400 years of Spanish domination in Sicily.

More history of Sicily > >

Palermo, where it all started

The Castle at Sperlinga where it all finished

On the ramparts