Rome, Venice, Florence, and Milan, with their heritage, architecture, scenery, cuisine, and climate, are the top destinations for travelers worldwide. The Amalfi coast has garnered celebrity status, and the rugged Dolomites have majestically captured the hearts of many. However, Sud Italia - Italian for Southern Italy, including the island of Sicily - deserves no less attention. For Muslims especially, this region is a rare gem, and uncovering its hidden beauty and history helps us have a stronger appreciation of the heyday of the Muslim civilization. Interestingly, Southern Italy is the heel on Italy’s boot, which is evident when you see a map. It is also called “Mezzogiorno” of Italy, derived from the old habit of connecting the cardinal points to the winds that blow from that direction. The sun, at noon, can be observed in its maximum splendor only from the Mezzogiorno or the South.
Towards the end of the 7th century, the Arabs had conquered the whole of North Africa. With the capture of Carthage, the Muslims had a strong fleet and were able to control strategic maritime routes. In 805, Ibrahim l Ibn Aglab, ruler of the Tunisian dynasty of the Aghlabids, signed a ten-year treaty with the ruler of Sicily. The Byzantines didn’t fulfill the treaty’s terms, so in 812, the Aghlabids sent a fleet and captured several small islands that were part of Sicily. They couldn’t capture the main island of Sicily, though, at this time.
In 826, a mutiny arose amongst the Byzantine commanders. One of them fled to North Africa and offered his terms to capture the island for the Muslim Caliph in exchange for protection and the title of commander. The Aghlabids agreed to his terms, and they requested that he pay an annual tribute to the Muslims. Once the terms were finalized, an army was sent to conquer the island, led by Asad Ibn Al-Furat, a 70-year-old Muslim commander. The first battle occurred in July 827 near Mazara and ended with an Islamic victory.
The Muslims could not fully capture the capital city of Palermo, Bal’harm, in Arabic, until 831. It took more than 100 years to conquer the whole island fully. Two short-lived Emirates existed in Apulia during this time, namely the Emirate of Bari ( 847 - 871 ) and the Emirate of Taranto ( 840 - 883 ). The Emirate of Bari had its powers conferred directly by the Caliph of Baghdad and not the Aghlabids. In 965, the fall of the Byzantine fortress of Rometta marked when Muslims fully controlled all of Sicily. From 901 - 956, Sicilian Muslims also ruled Calabria.
Initially, the Emirate of Sicily was the seat of an emirate dependent on the Tunisian dynasty of the Aghlabids, who ruled it with their emissaries, followed by the Fatimids from Egypt. The Fatimid Caliph appointed Hassan Al Qalbi as Emir of Sicily, who founded the Calbit dynasty, detached himself from the Fatimids, and became independent. This Emir started attacking mainland Italy. However, his progeny entered dynastic strife by 1017 - 1037, and the Emirate disintegrated into tiny princedoms.
During the 200 years of their domination, the Arabs divided the land into three administrative districts, namely the Val di Mazara, Val Demone, and Val di Noto. The Arabs helped increase land productivity, introduced irrigation systems, and planted many fruit trees. The city plan of Palermo today is what it was from the times of the Arabs. They also brought oriental culture, poetry, arts, and sciences to the island and embellished their kingdom with great monuments.
In 1060, a Norman Knight called Roger invaded Sicily. His brother after him, Roger l, also conquered Apulia, Calabria, and then Palermo. In 1091, the last Muslim cities of Noto, Butera, and Malta surrendered, and the Emirate ceased to exist. However, unlike the situation in Andalucia, the local Muslims survived the Norman conquest. The Norman Kings allowed the Muslims to live and flourish because they appreciated their knowledge and hard work. Interestingly, around 1145, King Roger ll of Sicily hired Al Idrisi, the famous Arab Muslim cartographer and geographer, as an adviser and commissioned him to prepare an updated map of the world.
Religious uprisings led to the Muslims being expelled from the island in 1224 and transferred to a controlled environment in Lucera. This colony also thrived until it was totally destroyed in 1300.
2) Islamic Heritage Now
Italy is one of the only two western countries besides Spain that has physical proof, in other words, historical evidence of local Islamic presence in its history.
Sicily offers countless sites for the Muslim tourist, such as the Arab-Norman castle in Calatabiano, the summit of Taormina, the Fortress of the Saracenni in Monte Tauro and the bridge of the Saracenni, the KASBAH in Mazzara del Vallo, and the Mosque of Segesta in Trapani and so much more.
Palermo boasts a Museum of Islamic Art, in addition to the very famous Arab baths of Cefala-Diana
Lecce, one of the main cities of Apulia, has two crucial historical residences - Villa Himera and Villa Bray - where there are many demonstrations of the Arabian influences on Italian architectural style. The Adriatic coast of Apulia, especially the cities of Tricase and Otranto, exhibit the Moorishstyled proof of Arabian existence.
A must-visit is the Islamic University of Casamassima in Apulia. It was conceived in the 1980s by Michele Tridente, an Italian entrepreneur who reverted to Islam. The University was never opened due to financial issues, but the campus with its classrooms, laboratories, halls, gardens, farms, and a Mosque was built on two and a half hectares of land. The year of construction is registered in the Gregorian and Islamic calendars, namely 1984 and 1404, respectively.
This University’s Arabesque-style buildings still stand today. The facilities are made with white stones with domed minarets, culminating in crescent-shaped iron candelabras. The tower has the word “Bismillah” engraved on a marble circle. There is also a colonnade with a Moorish vault. The campus has an impressive garden with a long tree-lined avenue in the middle.
From the second floor, you can see part of its interior facade with a massive slab with various passages of the Holy Quran engraved. On the opposite side is another high slab made from marble with Surahs inscribed, but the most beautiful one had red bricks with Surah Al Baqarah written on it.
Traces of Islamic presence are still evident in San Nicola Cathedral in Bari, where the mosaic surrounding the abbot Elia’s chair is composed of a pseudo-Kufic motif whose characters take the form of the “Allah” monogram.
3) Unique & Authentic Italian Experiences
As Aristotle said, “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know” when visiting towns, villages, and beaches in this part of Italy. The beautiful stretches of dramatic coastline, picture-perfect beaches, charming coastal islands, and more historic cities, towns, and villages other than previously mentioned leave you in awe and make you come back to visit again and again.
The city of Alberobello has the most extensive collection of Trulli - white-washed stone huts with conical roofs that have been around for ages. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the prettiest time to see them is early morning or evening when all the Trullis light up. While there, you can visit an olive oil farm and bond and appreciate the hard work that farmers put in to achieve the most refined olive oil that is a source of pride and joy for the local Apulians.
With its white-washed buildings sitting on top of a hill, Ostuni is quite the sight. Built like a maze, you may come across alleyways, stairs, and arches. You may turn one way and end with a view of the sapphire Adriatic Sea, but if you turn the other way, you may come to a dead end. The city was intentionally designed this way in the past to push away any invaders who would get lost in confusion. The stark whiteness of the buildings is interrupted by the green, and blue doors, pots of red geraniums or cacti.
The beautiful lighthouse, Faro Di Punta Palascia, is exactly where the Adriatic and Ionian seas meet. It is the best spot to experience unforgettable sunrises or sunsets by the coast. If you go up the staircase, you can see the Albanian and Greek coasts.
An astounding natural phenomenon by the coast is the Grotta Delle Tre Porte, a beautiful cave with three doors or openings. Make sure to swim in the refreshing waters of the Ionian Sea. Boat tours are offered along the coast at any time of day.
You can swim with your Burkini in Italy, so get ready to sample the Baia Delle Orte, a secluded bay that allows you to connect with nature. The clear water, with astonishing views, is even perfect for scuba diving.
It is so easy to slide into an authentic pace of life when the locals would sit on benches and catch up, drinking espresso and eating traditional food, which is simple in its ingredients but rich in taste.
Talk about Italian cuisine, and the thoughts of pasta, pizza, gnocchi, lasagne, cannoli, and gelato engulf one’s mind. Italy offers dishes that are recognized and appreciated worldwide. Now, you as a Muslim have an opportunity to fully experience the traditional local cuisine with its extraordinary culinary delights prepared in a purely halal way if you book a trip with us.
The city of Puglia already offers a wide range of typical products that Muslims can safely consume, such as “pasticciotto,” mozzarella, taralli, frise, and others. In Sicily especially, famous dishes like arancini, cannoli, and other fish-based dishes are also prepared in compliance with halal standards, to be consumed without any doubt. To satisfy the halal food needs of local Muslims and other catering establishments, an Italian company has recently launched the first halal “ragu” named Maria to the market. “Tagliatelle alla bolognese” will now be a halal experience for Muslims to enjoy and may be taken home as a souvenir.
5) Muslim - Friendly Community
It is widely recognized that the “warmest,” meaning friendliest and kindest people live in the south of Italy. It is no surprise that in 2018, the first 360-degree project to promote Muslim Friendly Tourism in the “Bel Paese” or “Beautiful Country” of Italy was launched. The aim was to promote the culture of Halal with a particular focus on catering, accommodation, and operators in the sector. Clearly, promoting the Halal culture and integrating Islamic etiquette in services was fundamental for attracting future Muslim travelers. “Italy Muslim Friendly” network guarantees the quality of service with in-depth training of kitchen and dining room staff on all the standards to be respected for correct interaction with the Muslim customer.
Despite its tremendous tourism resources and attractiveness, Italy’s lack of tailored itineraries and services for Muslim tourists was holding back the development of Muslim tourism in this region. Recognizing and aiming to fill this gap, K&S Travel and Business became the first and only local operator in July 2018 that offers Muslim-friendly tour services in Italy. Karim C. Benvenuto, one of the top experts on Islamic culture and tourism in Italy, has created the first network of qualified Muslim-friendly resources in Italy. This includes accommodation facilities, catering, and restaurant establishments, specialized travel agencies, tour operators, and tourism enthusiasts to ensure a genuinely halal experience. A Muslim tourist has the option to stay at villas with private beaches.
The openness to having local institutions such as the Higher Institute of Halal Science and Technology (Instituto Superiore di Scienze e Tecnologie Halal) is a testament to how welcoming and open-minded the locals are Masha’Allah. There are various courses to better equip the local tourism industry with a wide range of knowledge regarding Halal certification and audit, food preparation and customs, and commercial and cultural awareness. Prof. Peppino de Rose, based in Calabria, offers educational tours to promote cultural and academic exchanges supported by the Chambers of Commerce in Vibo Valentia and Cosenza, The University of Calabria, and the local association of hotels.
Is there any Reward for Good - other than Good? (Quran 55:60)
Recognizing all the hard work that K&S Travel and Business have put in, HalalTravels.com is delighted to partner with them. We are excited to offer you all types of tours whether you visit Italy for business or pleasure. Whether you seek sightseeing, sports, culture, wellness, or any other customized tour, get in touch via email@example.com and learn about Italy and your halal travel options.
We invite you to come and support our fellow Muslims and taste the authentic and fulfilling experience of “La Dolce Vita” here in the South of Italy.