Today, Sicily is a semi-tropical climate, but in the Middle Ages, the island’s weather was much cooler, with more rain. Certainly, global climate change has contributed, but relality is, scholars attribute the change to extensive deforestation, and as a result, over time, the decline of precipitation and rise in temperatures.
At one time, Sicily’s rivers and streams were stocked with fresh water fish. Today, such fish are extinct. So, between the Romans, who started clearing forests to cultivate wheat to feed the Empire, and the Spanish, who further cleared the forests around Enna, Agrigento, and Caltanissetta not only for wheat, but also to build their navel and commercial fleets in order to support their empire, Sicily’s wooded terrain was all but extinguished by the start of the 18th century. The once lucrative mines for sulfur, limestone, and marble also led to deforestation and changes to the ecosystem. With all of this, rivers became seasonal streams, and overall rainfall levels diminished. Wheat is still one of Sicily’s main crops. And wood for lumber–well, it is very expensive because it has to be imported. Thankfully, mountain ranges such as the Madonie, Nebrodi (pictured here), and Peloritans are still rich in vegetation, however, the lush terrain known by the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans no longer exists.