Sicily and the Isle of Women

Legends, wonder and a centuries-old tower are all that remain on Isola delle Femmine.

By: Tony Traficante, Contributing Editor for ISDA

Yo, guys: don’t get so big-headed just because there is an Isle of Man. Bet you didn’t know there is an Isle of Women, in Sicily. Well, suck it up — there is. The Sicilian women created their own [wo]man-caves, so to speak.

Sicily is a unique region full of fascinating people, landscapes, history, architecture and unique wonders. It is said that the people in Sicily consider themselves Sicilians first and Italians second. Sicily, one of five of the twenty Italian Regions have been granted “autonomous” status by the Constitution. But wait, this is not an article about the Region of Sicily, although it certainly would be an incredible adventure.

Sicily is an island of islands. It is surrounded by small islands, one of which is, Isola delle Femmine, “the Isle of Women,” or as the Sicilians say, Isula dî Fìmmini. So, what is this Island of Women, and how did it get its name? The tiny isle, not to be confused with the Sicilian town that carries the same name, is located a few meters off the coast. Unfortunately, cari figli, mi dispiace dire che tutte le donne sono scomparse, “I am sorry to say that all the women are gone — and for that matter so are other humans.”

The isle carries a bit o’ baggage with its history and lots of engaging myths. One of the best tells the story of a wild tribe of lasciviously beautiful women who lay in wait to ambush and make love to marooned sailors. Huh! A great story, but who would believe it? Never got any complaints from the rescued sailors to substantiate it!

Another legend, a little more plausible, is the isle was once a women’s prison. Or the other myth: it was a refuge for females and children sent to escape the plague that hit the mainland. Potrebbero questi signore essere alcune delle abitanti originali, “Could these ladies be some of the original inhabitants?”

These legends flourished around Sicily, but no one really knows the truth. The isle is uninhabited, except for a crumbling 16th century watchtower, and lots of birds. Today, the Isola is a nature preserve governed by the Italian League for Bird Protection (LIPU). Perhaps some entrepreneurial real estate agent would consider partnering with LIPU to return humans to the island…again?

The town of Isola delle Femmine sits on the mainland of Sicily; it is real and inhabited by men, women, and children. Probably has a few birds, too. It lies west of Palermo and boasts a population of about 7,000 citizens. Interesting to note that American baseball great Joe DiMaggio’s parents, Giuseppe Di Maggio and Rosalia Mercurio, immigrated to the United States from the town of Isola delle Femmine.

Wolfgang Goethe said of Sicily: L’Italia senza Sicilia non lascia immagine nello spirito: qui è la chiave di tutto, “To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.”

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