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Originally a mint for ancient Greece, Messina’s first name was Zancle. This changed to Messene when other Greeks, from the area Messenia, came, saw, and conquered. Under Roman dominion, Messina began to thrive instead of suffer from its luck of being a strategic island port town.
As a medieval city-state, Messina fell once more, in the 800’s, to invading Muslins, only to be independent again in the Norman era. During the dawn of the second millennium, Messina prospered as never before by serving as a pit-stop for the traffic of Crusaders headed to the Holy Land. Trade flourished, Palermo was rivaled as Sicily’s most important city, and Messina sat atop what would be its historical peak.
Under the Byzantine Empire and the Arabs, Messina became a European center of the silk industry; the surround hillsides were covered with mulberry trees. This lasted for more than a thousands years until in the 19th Century a parasite wiped out the silkworms. One of the old silk mills has been converted into the Museo Regionale.
Renaissance culture colored the area as the city still thrived financially and, therefore, culturally, and it would continue to do so until an 18th century Spanish invasion signaled the beginning of hard times for the city. In 1783 an earthquake struck down much of the population, as well as its art and infrastructure, an event that would be reprised with even more severity in the quake and resulting tsunami of 1908, which killed 70,000-80,000 of the 120,000 inhabitants.
On its feet again, the city was undercut yet again by incessant Allied bombing campaigns during the middle of WWII. The Duomo was nearly completely destroyed; only the lower portion of the facade and the south wall are original. The rest has been beautifully restored.
For the last fifty years, Messina has been trying, with much success, to re-establish its glory days in a modern era. A bridge had been planned across the strait connecting Sicily to the mainland and so making it the longest suspension bridge in the world in a quite unstable geological area. Since the early 1950s there have been plans for this bridge but only lately with new technology did it look like becoming a reality. Construction should have started in the early 2006 but this never happened and the latest news in 2007 is that there won't be a bridge built for the moment because of lack of private financial backing. So, it looks like the ferries are still the only way to cross the strait, some of which actually take entire trains inside as well as cars. If and when the bridge is constructed it will probably lead to increased tourist traffic and economic revitalization.