Messina, the second town of Sicily, is situated on the north-east coast of the island on the Straits of Messina. It was orginally called Zancle (" sickle") from the shape of its harbour. It was for some time under Carthaginian rule, but in 241 B.C. became a Roman possession. When the empire was divided, it was included in the eastern portion. It was taken by the Saracens in 831, and was the first conquest of Roger the Norman in 1061. The city next came under the sway of the German emperors, and, after a short period of French rule, was for six centuries (1282 - 1713) a Spanish possession. Messina was the scene of the Sicilian Vespers in 1282, of a plague in 1743, and of a terrible earthquake in 1783. It was bombarded for three days in 1848 by the Neapolitans, and held out obstinately against the Sardinians in 1861. The fine harbour of Messina made it an important port from the earliest days. It is estimated that more than 3,000 vessels enter the port every year. Fruits, wheat, wines, and oil are exported, and the inhabitants work in the coral and make up silk goods.
Messina has a university, founded by the Jesuits in the 16th century, and is an archiepiscopal see. The cathedral was begun in 1098, but has suffered much and been continually rebuilt, so that it exhibits the utmost diversity of styles. There are several other handsome buildings.