It was not the Allies’ greatest decision. Seventy-four years ago this July, they re-took Sicily from the Germans and proceeded to release all of the island’s political prisoners, many of them self-proclaimed as such. Unfortunately, these turned out to have been banged up for being in the Mafia - and thus Mussolini’s fierce and successful crackdown on organised crime through the 1920s and ‘30s was ruined.
Since the late 19th century the ball at mainland Italy’s toe had been deemed too peripheral for the central government of a fledgling nation to control and a wild west of violent, middle class peasant entrepreneurs arose, selling land it didn’t own and ruling over the locals in feudal fashion. Sicily - literally cut off from fledgling civilised society - would, well into recent times, largely be ignored and tolerated by the powerhouses of Rome and Milan. As recently as 1992, two anti-mafia magistrates were assassinated in Sicily by the Cosa Nostra - and the island’s reputation, almost back on its feet, fell into disrepute again.
A quarter of a century on from then, might Sicily finally be turning a corner? There’s talk once again of building a suspension bridge across the Strait of Messina - if it came off it would be the world’s longest and an engineering marvel. Next year will see Palermo, Sicily’s capital, become the Italian Capital of Culture - bringing with it a €1m award for promotion that is already seeing the regeneration of its La Kalsa waterfront area; harbours around the island are being redeveloped; roads are, slowly, being built; an upbeat local economy is encouraging young Sicilians to stay in Sicily, or at least to return after a spell in the big city, bringing with them new ideas and perspectives; visitor numbers are decidedly on the up.