The Trinacria, also known as Triskelion, is the familiar three-legged symbol of Sicily.
Everywhere you go in Sicily, you will see a Trinacria, the symbol of our beautiful island. And if you are tempted to bring one home, you’ll have plenty of choices, from sophisticated ceramic Trinacria wall plates from Caltagirone to inexpensive fridge magnets. Of course, we do hope that you’ll go for one of the stunning Sicilian pottery pieces handmade by local artists and artisans, such as Ghenos or Sofia.
Regardless of your choice, you may want to learn about the origin of the Trinacria and impress your fellow travelers with some captivating anecdotes about the origins of Sicily and its three-legged symbol.
Let’s explore the island’s myths and legends, one by one.
The three nymphs and the origins of Sicily
Once upon a time, three nymphs roamed the world, gracefully dancing their way to the most bountiful corners of nature. They gathered stunning rocks, delicious fruit, and fertile soil as they went along.
The nymphs danced endlessly until they stumbled upon a region with the clearest blue skies. Mesmerized by its beauty, they fell in love with the place and decided to make it their permanent home. As a gesture of gratitude, they tossed all their cherished possessions into the sea, creating a magnificent rainbow. The water glimmered and from its depths emerged a stunning, aromatic, and vivid new island shaped like a triangle, with one vertex or cape representing each of the nymphs.
Colapesce – the hero of Sicily
In the city of Messina, there lived a boy named Nicola, who was affectionately known as Cola. From a young age, Cola had developed a deep passion for swimming in the sea, and he spent most of his days diving and exploring the underwater world. So much so, in fact, that his body acquired the skills of a fish (in Italian “pesce”, hence Colapesce) – Cola could dive to great depths effortlessly and stay underwater for hours on end.
Cola’s remarkable skills made him very popular with the sailors who sought his help in navigating Sicily’s treacherous waters. He never failed to deliver and would often come back to shore with tales of the treasures he had discovered on the sea bed, which only added to his popularity.
One day, the news of Cola’s remarkable abilities reached the ears of King Frederick II. Intrigued, he decided to sail to Messina to meet him. Upon his arrival, the sovereign threw a golden goblet overboard and asked the kid to retrieve it. Without any hesitation, Cola dived into the water and retrieved the goblet with ease. He then proceeded to describe the beautiful underwater landscape he had seen during his dive.
Impressed, the King asked the crew to sail to an area with deeper water and threw his crown overboard. Then he asked Colapesce to retrieve it. Cola accepted the new challenge and spent two days and two nights diving deep into the sea in search of the crown. When he finally found it, he returned to the King and reported a stunning discovery: Sicily rested on three columns, one of which was about to break.
Frederick II was amazed by Cola’s abilities and decided to test him further. This time he threw his ring into the water and asked Colapesce to retrieve it. Cola hesitated, sensing that he might not return if he accepted the challenge. However, after some contemplation, Cola agreed to retrieve the ring, saying, “Give me a handful of lentils. If you see them surface, you’ll know I am not coming back”.
Days later, the King saw the lentils and his ring resurface and understood that Colapesce had decided to stay under the sea and shoulder the broken column, which was responsible for holding up Sicily.
This act of bravery and selflessness made Cola a legend in Sicilian folklore, and whenever an earthquake shakes the island, the Sicilians know that it’s Cola moving the broken column from one shoulder to the other.
Trinacria – the three-legged symbol of Sicily
Trinacria is the ancient name of Sicily. The term means “three-pointed” and was coined by the Greeks, who were drawn to the island’s triangular shape with three stunning endpoints: Cape Pachino, Cape Peloro, and Cape Lilibeo.
The name Trinacria also refers to a symbol that represents Sicily and its culture. It consists of a winged head of Medusa, a mythological creature with snakes for hair, surrounded by three bent legs and, occasionally, three ears of wheat.
The winged head of Medusa symbolizes wisdom, protection and freedom and acts as a protective talisman that wards off evil and brings good luck. The precise significance of the three bent legs is uncertain. They are usually described as emblems of the promontories or endpoints of Sicily. However, some scholars have also suggested they might represent time or the cycle of nature.
The ears of wheat celebrate the fertility and agricultural richness of the island. They were added to the Trinacria by the Romans, as Sicily was then considered the granary of their empire.
Trinacria has been used as a symbol of Sicily since ancient times – it was found on coins minted in Siracusa from the 4th century BC – and it is still present on the flag and the coat of arms of the region.
The Trinacria has been associated with Sicily since at least the Greek times and was found on coins minted in Siracusa from the 4th century BC.
By Tiziana Manzetti