Because of its strategic location, Sicily was invaded over the centuries by many armies, and was once the site of Roman, Greek and Phoenician colonies. For history-buffs and interested tourists, remnants of those cultures remain to this day.
The Byzantine's used Sicily as a base to conquer the rest of Italy, and ultimately the capital of the empire was moved to Syracuse, Sicily in 663.
Defeated by the Arabs in 965, land reforms were initiated, and an increase in productivity on the island encouraged growth. Under the ruling Arabs, native Christians were given freedom of religion, however, they had to pay a tax, and were greatly limited in their occupations, dress and participation in public affairs.
The Norman dynasty ultimately died out after a century of ruling, and the crown passed on to the German Hohenstaufens. By 1266, a conflict between the Papacy and Hohenstaufen house led to Pope Innocent IV crowning French prince Charles as king of Sicily.
Tensions flared under French command, as mistreatment and taxation of the island grew, and eventually led to an uprising.
Following the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, Sicily and Naples merged formally into the Two Sicilies under the Bourbons. Unsatisfied with the Bourbon government, major revolutionary movements began in 1820. However, it wasn't until the 1848 revolution that Sicily was able to gain their independence - if only briefly.
In 1860, Giuseppe Garibaldi led the Expedition of the Thousand, and captured Sicily. Promises of an Italian Republic and equality were guaranteed, and as the final Bourbons were removed Garibaldi announced his dictatorship; Sicily then officially became a part of the Kingdom of Italy.
Upon the birth of the Italian Republic in 1946, Sicily was one of five named as an autonomous region. Partial land reforms and special funding helped improve the Sicilian economy from 1950 to 1984.
Sicily's economy is based largely on agriculture, fishing, mining, and of course... tourism. Many visitors to the island use the dependable ferry service from the Italian mainland to Messina. Also there is ferry or hydrofoil service to Palermo from ports throughout the central Mediterranean.