1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Messina

MESSINA, a city of Sicily, 7 m. S.S.W. of the promontory of Faro (anc. Promontorium Pelorum), which forms the north-eastern angle, of the island, the capital of the province of Messina and the seat of an archbishop. Pop. (1850), 97,074; (1881), 126,497; (1901), 149,778; (1905), 158,812. The site of the town curves round the harbour, between it and the strongly fortified hills of Antennamare, the highest point of which is 3707 ft. The straits, which take their name from the town, are here about 31/2 m. wide, and only a little over 2 m. at the promontory of Faro. The numerous earthquakes from which the city had suffered, notably that in 1783, had left it few remains of antiquity. But it was a flourishing and beautiful city when in 1908 one of the most disastrous earthquakes ever recorded destroyed it totally. The earthquake occurred early in the morning of December 28, and so far as Messina was concerned the damage was done chiefly by the shock and by the fires which broke out afterwards; the seismic wave which followed was comparatively innocuous. But it did vast damage elsewhere along the strait, notably at Reggio, Calabria, which was also totally destroyed. Many other smaller towns suffered both in Sicily and in Calabria; the loss of life was appalling and the distress widespread, in spite of the prompt assistance rendered by Italian naval and military forces and by the crews of British, Russian and German warships and other vessels, and the contribution of funds for relief works from every part of the world. The immediate seismic focus appeared to be in the straits, but Dr E. Suess pointed out that it was surrounded by a curved line of earth-fracture, following an arc drawn from a centre in the Lipari Islands, from Catanzaro to Etna, and so westward; within this arc .he held that the crust of the earth is gradually sinking, and is in an unstable condition. According to an official estimate the earthquake caused the loss of 77,283 lives.[1] (See also Earthquake.)

The façades of buildings at Messina in great part withstood the earthquake, but even when they did so the remainder of the buildings was destroyed. The cathedral, which was completely wrecked, was begun in 1098 and finished by Roger II. It had a fine Gothic façade: the interior had mosaics in the apses dating from 1330, and the nave contained 26 granite columns, said to have been brought from a temple of Poseidon near Faro, and had a fine wooden roof of 1260. The rest of the edifice was in the baroque style; the high altar (containing the supposed letter of the Virgin Mary to the people of Messina), richly decorated with marbles, lapis lazuli, &c., was begun in 1628 and completed in 1726. The importance of Messina was almost entirely due to its harbour, a circular basin open on the north only, formed by a strip of land curving round like a sickle, from which it took its original name, Zancle (ζάγκλον, or rather δάγκλον, the Sicilian equivalent of the Greek δρέπανον,[2] according to Thucydides, vi. 4).

Zancle was first founded, no doubt on the site of an earlier settlement, by pirates from Cumae, and again more regularly Settled, after an unknown interval, by settlers from Cumae under Perieres, and from Chalcis under Crataemenes, in the first quarter of the 8th century B.C. Mylae must have been occupied as an outpost very soon afterwards, but the first regular colony of Zancle was Himera, founded in 648 B.C. After the capture of Miletus by the Persians in 494 B.C. Skythes, king of Zancle, invited the Ionians to come and settle at Καλὴ Ἀκτὴ, then in the occupation of the Sicels (the modern Marina di Caronia, 25 m. east of Cefalu); but at the invitation of Anaxilas of Regium the Samians proceeded instead to the latter place. About 488 B.C. Anaxilas and the Samians occupied Zancle in the absence of Skythes, and it was then that the name was changed to Messene, as the existence of coins of the Samian type, bearing the new name, proves. About 480, however, Anaxilas thoroughly established his authority at Messene, and the types of coinage introduced by him persevere down to about 396 B.C.,[3] when Anaxilas himself zealously supported his son-in-law Terillus in inviting the Carthaginians' invasion of 480 B.C. In 426 the Athenians gained the alliance of Zancle, but soon lost it again, and failed to obtain it in 415.

Messina fell into the hands of the Carthaginians during their, wars with Dionysius the elder of Syracuse (397 B.C.). The Carthaginians destroyed the city, but Dionysius recaptured and rebuilt it. During the next nity years Messina changed masters several times, till Timoleon finally expelled the Carthaginians in 343 B.C. In the wars between Agathocles of Syracuse and Carthage, Messina took the side of the Carthaginians. After Agathocles' death, his mercenaries, the Mamertines, treacherously seized the town about 282 B.C. and held it. They came to war with Hiero II. of Syracuse and appealed for help to Rome, which was granted, and this led to a collision between Rome and Carthage, which ended in the First Punic War. Messina was almost at once taken by Rome. At the close of the war, in 241 B.C., Messina became a free and allied city (civitas foederata), and obtained Roman citizenship before the rest of Sicily, probably from Caesar himself. During the civil wars which followed the death of Caesar, Messina held with Sextus Pompeius; and in 35 B.C. it was sacked by Octavian's troops. After Octavian's proclamation as emperor he founded a colony here; and Messina continued to flourish as a trading port. In the division of the Roman empire it belonged to the emperors of the East; and in A.D. 547 Belisarius collected his fleet here before crossing into Calabria. The Saracens took the city in A.D. 831; and in 1061 it was the first permanent conquest made in Sicily by the Normans. In 1190 Richard I. of England, with his crusaders, passed six months in Messina. He quarrelled with Tancred, the last of the Hauteville dynasty, and sacked the town. In 1194 the city, with the rest of Sicily, passed to the house of Hohenstaufen under the emperor Henry VI., who died there in 1197; and after the fall of the Hohenstaufen was contended for by Peter I., king of Aragon, and Charles I., count of Anjou. At the time of the Sicilian Vespers (1282), which drove the French out of Sicily, Messina bravely defended itself against Charles of Anjou, and repulsed his attack. Peter I., through his commander Ruggiero di Loria, defeated the French off the Faro; and from 1282 to 1713 Messina remained a possession of the Spanish royal house. In 1571 the fleet fitted out by the Holy League against the Turk assembled at Messina, and in the same year its commander, Don John of Austria, celebrated a triumph in the city for his victory at Lepanto. Don John's statue stands in the Piazza dell' Annuziata. For one hundred years, thanks to the favors and the concessions of Charles V., Messina enjoyed great prosperity. But the internal quarrels between the Merli, or aristocratic faction, and the Malvezzi, or democratic faction, fomented as they were by the Spaniards, helped to ruin the city (1671–1678). The Messinians suspected the Spanish court of a desire to destroy the ancient senatorial constitution of the city, , and sent to France to ask the aid of Louis XIV. in their resistance. Louis dispatched a fleet into Sicilian waters, and the French occupied the city. The Spaniards replied by appealing to Holland, who sent a fleet under Ruyter into the Mediterranean. In 1676 the French admiral, Abraham Duquesne, defeated the combined fleet of Spain and Holland; but, notwithstanding this victory, the French suddenly abandoned Messina in 1678, and the Spanish occupied the town once more. The senate was suppressed, and Messina lost its privileges. This was fatal to the importance of the city. In 1743 the plague carried off 40,000 inhabitants. The city was partially destroyed by earthquake in 1783. During the revolution of 1848 against the Bourbons of Naples, Messina was bombarded for three consecutive days. In 1854 the deaths from cholera numbered about 15,000. Garibaldi landed in iSicily in 1860, and Messina was the last city in the island taken from the Bourbons and made a part of united Italy under Victor Emmanuel.

Messina was the birthplace of Dicaearchus, the historian (c. 322 B.C.); Aristocles, the Peripatetic; Euhemerus, the rationalist (c. 316 B.C.); Stefano Protonotario, Mazzeo di Ricco and Tommaso di Sasso, poets of the court of Frederick II. (A.D. 1250); and Antonello da Messina, the painter (1447–1499), of whose works one is preserved in the museum. During the 15th century the grammarian Constantine Lascaris, taught in Messina; and Bessarion was for a time archimandrite there.  (T. As.) 

  1. See S. Franchi, “ Il Terremoto . . a Messina . . ., " in Boll. R. Comit. geologico d'Ital., 4th series, vol. x. (1909).
  2. From this word Trapani derives its name.
  3. This account is at variance with the literary evidence and rests on that of the coins, as set forth by I. H. Dodd in Journal of Hellenic Studies, xxviii., (1908) 56 sqq.