One of the most famous aspects of Sicily is the Mafia, or Cosa Nostra. Aside from The Godfather, most people don’t know much about the Cosa Nostra and its offshoots. The Mafia actually started during the middle of the 19th century as a reaction to the breakdown of the old strong feudal system and the rise of a new and weak government. From the middle of the 19th century on, agriculture collapsed slowly as a source of revenue and the Mafia rose as a secret society of bandits who shook down landowners for “protection money”. They prevailed on what was left of the aristocratic landowners and got their payoff in return for leaving them alone. If the feudal system had remained intact, the Mafia never would have appeared. Over time, the Mafia turned more to running their own illegal activities rather than preying on landowners. Several members went to America to make their fortunes and did quite well, as we know.
In Italy in general, the Mafia was rumored to have been a big player in the Christian Democratic Party (the prevailing political party in Italy), and at the time of WWII, the Allies were even said to have enlisted the aid of Mafiosi to keep order after they invaded Italy!
Today, there are three main organized crime organizations, and they are differentiated by location. The Mafia or Cosa Nostra is the most famous and often portrayed as the most elegant of the three. They were always the stuff of legend, painted in romantic tones and secretly admired for their style and success. The Cosa Nostra is associated mainly with Sicily and are actually quite commonly seen but keep a very low profile.
The Cammora is the name of the organized crime scene is Naples. They are famous for controlling the garbage pickup in that ancient city and were the subject of the wildly popular cable television series The Sopranos. Born in the shadow of Vesuvius, the Cammora is seen as a lot rougher and less sophisticated than the Sicilian Mafia, but very effective for their loose bonds of organization.
Finally, the ‘Ndrangheta is the organized crime society which operates out of Calabria, the “toe of the boot”. What makes them so tenacious is that they are strictly among family members, so it is almost impossible to infiltrate their ranks. They are not as effective as the Camorra or the Mafia but they are exceptionally vicious when moved to be.
Most of the organized criminal groups are found in the South of Italy and it is thought to be in response to the increasing poverty in the South as good paying jobs migrated to the North after the Unification and post WWII. As the fortunes of the South declined, organized crime increased.
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