Powerful because people owed them favors, strong because they supported one another, and feared because they did not hesitate to kill offenders, the Sicilian Mafia founded a brutal tradition that has dominated life since the late 19th century. The Mafia system has its roots in the latifondi (agricultural estates) of rural Sicily, where land managers and salaried militiamen protected their turf and people. Today, Sicilians avoid the topic, referring to the Mafia as Cosa Nostra (Our Thing). At a grass-roots level, the Mafia is said to have long controlled public works infrastructure, and farmers for years have lived in fear of land seizure and extortion. The Mafia was reported to have capitalized upon a drought in the summer of 2002 by stealing water from private wells and public water systems. Recent local resistance includes a farmers’ group, Libera, that sells what it calls anti-Mafia pasta, made from wheat grown on land seized from the Mafia by the government. Another jailed Mafia don’s estate has been converted to a cooperative olive oil production site. Since the mid-80s, government efforts to curtail Mafia influence have had some success. Dozens of members of Mafia strongholds like the Corle-one, mythologized by The Godfather films, have been arrested, and in August 2002, Palermo police confiscated an estimated ‚500 million in Mafia property.

Ortigia, the serene island on which the Greeks first landed. The ruined Temple of Apollo has a few columns still standing, but those at the Temple of Diana are much more impressive. Those who prefer tans to temples take bus #21, 22, or 24 to Fon-tane Bianche, a glitzy beach with plenty of discos.

Trains leave V. Francesco Crispi for Messina (3hr. 16 per day, ‚8.30) and Rome (12hr. 5 per day, ‚38). Interbus buses, V. Trieste 28 (0931 667 10), leave for Palermo (3hr. 5 per day, ‚14). To get from the train station to the tourist office, V.S. Sebastiano 43, take V.F. Crispi to C. Gelone, turn right on V. Teocrite, then left on V.S. Sebastiano; it’s on the left. (0931 048 12 32. Open M-F 8:30am-l:30pm and 3:30-6:30pm, Sa 8:30am-l:30pm.) Hotel Centrale , C. Umberto 1141, has clean rooms with astounding sea views, ( 0931 605 28. Singles ‚17; doubles ‚26; triples ‚35-37.) For cheap food, try places on Via Savoia and Via Cavour, or the open-air market in Ortigia, on V. Trento, off P. Pancali. (Open M-Sa 8am-lpm.)

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