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This island has a lot of history. The two most famous eras, which have left the most impressive buildings, were the Greek-Roman and the Norman (11-12h c.) The latter is famous for its Catholic churches with Byzantine mosaics, and some work by Islamic craftmen. The Norman Kingdom of Sicily began as a "private enterprise" conquest due to the Hauteville Greater Greece, and areas of Greek language and Orthodox religion survived into and after the Norman era. Indeed, there are still a few villages in the "toe" and "heel" of Italy where the "Griko" language is spoken. They had risen to prominence amongst the Norman mercenaries who had come to southern Italy in the early 11th century, and who had eventually wrested control from the squabbling local lords and cities who had employed them, and taken over the areas remaining under Byzantine government. Their reputation as tough fighters and negotiators was well deserved.
In 1160 the emir of Catania requested their help against his rival emirs in Sicily, and in 1061 the Normans landed near Messina, and soon conquered the area. It took several decades to subdue the rest of the island, largely because they could rarely spare more than small forces from their other quarrels in southern Italy. Henceforth, until Italian unification, Sicily was usually ruled together with southern Italy. This was the area where Greek settlements formed.
One of the "might-have-beens" of history is that Syracuse might have succeeded Constantinople as the capital of the Roman empire. After the loss of most of the eastern territories to the Muslims, and with Constantinople under threat, and having failed to re-capture Rome from the Lombards; the Emperor Constance II, in 663 settled his administration at Syracuse, to resist Muslim incursions into Sicily. However, in 668 he was assassinated in his bath by a chamberlain wielding a soap-dish, and his successor returned to Constantinople.
The Norman period ended with the inheritance of the Kingdom of Sicily (including southern Italy), by the Swabian or Hohenstaufen Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, in 1195. The area became embroiled in the disputes between the Papacy, the Holy Roman Emperors, the East Roman (Greek) and Latin Emperors â all claiming to be successors of the Roman Empire. Probably the most famous of these emperors was Henryâs son Frederick II, known as "Stupor Mundi". He recovered Jerusalem, for a while, by negotiation with the sultan of Egypt, and had himself crowned there as King of Jerusalem in 1229. He is buried in Palermo Cathedral.