|Messina is the third largest city on the island of Sicily, Italy and the capital of the province of Messina. It has a population of 250,000 inhabitants in the city proper and about 500,000 in the metropolitan area.
It is located near the North-East corner of Sicily, at the Strait of Messina, just opposite Villa San Giovanni which is itself north of Reggio Calabria across the straits, on the mainland.
The main economical resource of the city is the port, both commercial and military, with several shipyards. Agriculture include cultivations of lemons, oranges, mandarin oranges and other fruit, vegetables and wine.
The city has been a Catholic archdiocese seat since 1548 and is home to a locally important International Fair.
In 288 BC the Mamertines seized the city by treachery, killing all the men and taking the women as their wives. The city became a base from which they ravaged the countryside, leading to a conflict with the expanding regional empire of Syracuse. Hiero II, tyrant of Syracuse, defeated the Mamertines near Mylae on the Longanus River and besieged Messina. Carthage assisted the Mamertines because of a long-standing conflict with Syracuse over dominance in Sicily. When Hiero attacked a second time in 264 BC, the Mamertines petitioned Rome for an alliance, hoping for more reliable protection. Although initially reluctant to assist lest it encourage other mercenary groups to mutiny, Rome was unwilling to see Carthaginian power spread further over Sicily and encroach on Italy. Rome therefore entered into an alliance with the Mamertines. In 264 BC, Roman troops were deployed to Sicily, the first time a Roman army acted outside the Italian peninsula.
At the end of the first Punic War it was a free city allied with Rome. In Roman times Messina, then known as Messana, had an important pharos (lighthouse). Messana was the base of Sextus Pompeius, during his war against Octavian.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the city was successively conquered by the Goths, then by the Byzantine Empire in 535, by the Arabs in 842, and in 1061 by the Norman brothers Robert Guiscard and Roger Guiscard (later count Roger I of Sicily). In 1189 the English King Richard I stopped at Messina in his path towards the Holy Land and briefly occupied the city after a dispute over the dowry of his sister, who had been married to William II of Sicily.
Messina was most likely the harbor at which the Black Death entered Europe in the Middle Ages (1347): the plague was brought by Genoese ships coming from Jaffa in Palestine. In 1548 St. Ignatius founded here the first Jesuit College of the world, which later gave birth to the Studium Generale (the current University of Messina).
The Christan ships that won the Battle of Lepanto (1571) left from Messina: the Spanish author Cervantes, who took part to the battle, was recovered for some time in the Grand Hospital. The city reached the peak of its splendour in the early 17th century, under the Spanish domination: at the time it was one of the ten greatest cities in Europe. In 1674 the city rebelled against the foreign garrison. It managed to remain independent for some time, thanks to the help of the French king Louis XIV, but in 1678, with the Peace of Nijmegen, it was reconquered by the Spaniards and sacked: the University, the Senate and all the privileges of autonomy it had enjoyed since the Roman times were abolished. A massive fortress was built by the occupants, and thenceforth Messina decayed steadily.
In 1847 it was one of the first cities in Italy where Unitarian riots broke out. In 1848 it rebelled openly against the reigning Bourbons, but was heavily suppressed again. Only in 1860 , after the Battle of Milazzo, the Garibaldine troops freed the city. One of the main figure of the unification of Italy, Giuseppe Mazzini, was elected deputy at Messina in the general elections of 1866.
The city was almost entirely destroyed by an earthquake and associated tsunami on the morning of December 28, 1908, killing about 60,000 people and destroying most of the ancient architecture. The city was largely rebuilt in the following year, according to a more modern and rational plan. Further damage was added by the massive American air bombardments of 1943, which caused thousand of deaths. Later, the city gained a Gold Medal for Military Valour and one for the Civil Valour in memory of the event and the subsequent effort of reconstruction.
In June 1955, Messina was the location of the conference of western European foreign ministers which led to the creation of the European Economic Community.