A journey around Sicily’s symbols. From the fascinating to the sacred and mysterious.
Once upon a time there were three sisters with snakes for hair, wild boar’s tusks, bronze-clawed hands and golden wings. They were the terrifying Gorgons of Greek mythology.
The best known of the three Gorgon sisters is of course Medusa, the only one who was mortal, she was also their queen. Before being turned into a monster she was an extremely wise goddess. We can find her in the Trinacria symbol.
Trinacria is the ancient name for Sicily, the Italian island shaped like a triangle, but it is also the symbol used on the Sicilian flag and coat of arms, and that of the Isle of Man.
In the traditional symbol of Sicily, the Trinacria is made up of a triskelion or triskell with a woman’s head in the middle: none other than the Gorgon Medusa.
From Medusa’s head come two eagle’s wings, her hair is made up of snakes which wind into ears of wheat and there are three legs bent at the knee radiating from her head.
The wings symbolise vital strength and the spirit, the snakes stand for regeneration and the contact with the energies of the earth, the ears of wheat are an emblem of fertility. The three legs give an impression of rotation.
This three-legged figure – sometimes with spirals instead of legs, as in the Celtic triskell, or sickles (a lunar symbol) – is connected to the wheel of time, the Sun and its seasons, the Moon and its phases, as well as the complex symbolism of the number 3 and groups of three (the trinity). For the ancient people of Sicily it was the “Island of the Sun” and the three legs represented the sun’s rays.
The Greeks gave Sicily the name Trinacria, which comes from the Greek words treis (three) and akra (promontory). The three legs also represent the three corners of the island, in the north-east, south and west.
The Sicilian Trinacria has Hellenic origins but in ancient times the three-legged symbol was also sacred in Crete and Sparta in Asia Minor, in the valleys of the Indus, and among Celts and Teutons. It later appeared on the coats of arms of various noble European families.
In 1061 the Normans reached Sicily and “exported” the trinacria to the Isle of Man, which chose it as their own logo, in the form of three armoured legs joined at the centre.
Much has been written about this symbol in an attempt to explain its historical, mythological, sacred and mysterious significance.
The Trinacria is now a tattoo design used by Sicilians to expresses their identity and pride.