Discover West Sicily departing from Erice
Erice is set in the middle of an area full of naturalistic beauties, historic monuments and archeological areas: the West Sicily. Not so far away, driving less than 60 minutes, you can find many interesting destinations of a different kind: archeological, naturalistic, bathing, gastronomic, etc. By car you can easily go to Trapani centre, the nature Reserve of Trapani and Paceco’s Saltpans, Marsala’s cellars, the ruins of Segesta, Stagnone reserve and Mothia, Monte Cofano’s Reserve, San Vito lo Capo’s beach, the Zingaro’s Reserve and Scopello. Follows a brief description of the main touristic destinations
Trapani, the ancient Drepanon, offers to the visitors an old city centre full of streets, in which you can notice the indelible marks left by various civilizations. It is famous in all the world for its corals, for the tuna fishing, for the saltpans and the mills but now it is also the city of the sea and sailing (after the glorious experience of Act 8 and 9 of the Louis Vuitton Cup and other international sailing’events).
The city, juts out into the Mediterranean sea in the shape of a sickle (the city name derives from its shape). It is also called city between two seas because the North coast of the city is bathed by the Tyrrhenian sea and the West coast by the Mediterranean sea.
Nowadays Trapani offers to the visitors the opportunity to enjoy its beautiful buildings in the main roads: it is worth mentioning the Jewish quarter, with the Palazzo della Giudecca, or the oldest quarter of the town, called Casalicchio, characterized by an Arab-like labyrinth of narrow allyways; or Palazzo Cavarretta, the seat of the old Trapanese senate,etc. Do not forget also the beautiful collection of coral works that is exhibited in the Pepoli Museum, housed in the Carmelite monastery adjacent to the sanctuary in which you can visit the Madonna of the Annunciation. In addition there is the Colombaia Castle (an Aragonese castle) and the Ligny Tower which now houses the Museum of Prehistory.
The sea provides the city of Trapani with another feature which characterizes the coast as far as Marsala: the saltpans. Over the centuries, the saltpans and the salt industry have created a unique environment of great cultural, anthropological and economic relevance in a region where the land merges into the sea. This route is called Via del Sale (Salt road) and is remarkable for its numerous mills, most of them recently renovated, for the heaps of salt covered with terracotta tiles and for the Museum of Salt in Nubia, not far from Paceco. This area is part of two natural reserves, the Trapani and Paceco saltpans , and the Stagnone of Marsala, protected by the Italian Environmental Association of WWF.
In the shallow and warm waters of Stagnone’s Reserve lies the isle of Mozia, forty hectares of historic land surrounded by the sea. Together with Isola Lunga, Santa Maria and Isola della Schola, it forms a small archipelago in the Stagnone: the largest lagoon in Sicily. Thanks to its favourable position on trade routes, very soon became one of the most florid Phoenician colonies in the Meditteranean. The town was surrounded by high walls in which at intervals there were watch towers, semicircular battlements and two gates which are still well preserved. It was an important naval base, and so a “kothon” was built there, that is a dry dock for repairing ships (after the bigger Carthage, it is the only one found in the western Meditteranean). Among the most interesting areas discovered is the “tophet”, consisting of a shrine inside which there is a cemetery, where there were placed the remains of human sacrifices offered to cruel Phoenician divinities.
The foundation of Mozia dates back to the 8th century BC and its history was revealed thanks to Giuseppe Whitaker, a rich businessman who organized the first excavation campaign in 1875. Since then many objects have been brought to light and are now kept at the museum of Villa Whitaker, on the island. They include the grotesque mask of the “Laughing Man” and one of the most remarkable archaeological finds of the last few years, the Giovinetto di Mozia, a statue of a young boy dated to the 5th century BC. Next to the Museum there are remains of an ancient building, the Casa dei Mosaici, with mosaic floors depicting real and imaginary animals.
This archipelago, already inhabited in prehistoric times – when it was still attached to the mainland – though it has never been the theatre of important historical events (except for a naval battle which took place in the stretch of sea dividing Favignana and Levanzo, between the Romans and the Carthaginians), has always attracted the attention of sailors in the Mediterranean, especially that of pirates, who regularly stopped here to get water. The first true appearance of these islands in history dates from the fifteenth century, when they were transformed into a “barony of tuna fish”. It was thanks to tuna fishing that the three islands, and especially Favignana, in the space of a few decades reached great prosperity, shared by everyone, from the last fisherman to the entrepreneurs. The latter were first Ligurians, who acquired the archipelago in the seventeenth century and the Florios, a powerful Palermo family, whose mansion, can be still admired on Favignana. Thanks to the Florios, the ”mattanza” (slaughter), processing and preservation of the tuna fish was given a new lease of life.
Favignana, the biggest of the three islands is also the one with the best accommodation facilities. The little village, all gathered around the harbor, still has some small Baroque churches. This island is largely tufa rock, which has been used since time immemorial in building. Today the tuff quarries are disused and they are now an openair museum. The coasts, rich in crannies, little bays and grottoes, are bathed by a clear turquoise sea with splendid reflections. In front of the northern coast of Favignana there is the smallest of the Egadi Islands: Levanzo, known above all for the Genoan’s cave which conserves decorations and graffiti considered the most interesting in Italy. On the walls the accurate hand of an unknown artist of 10.000 – 15.000 years ago traced out men, women and children, animals and fish. Marettimo, the furthest from the Sicilian coast, is perhaps for this reason the most unspoilt, but also the most different. Montainous, unlike the other two, it hides in the bowles of its caves freshwater springs, and it is covered with luxuriant spontaneous vegetation; it is a small island, which gives the visitor the opportunity of living in symbiosis with nature.
Following the slope of Mount Erice and tracks of the ancient Elymian people one arrives in Segesta, surrounded by a range of gently sloping hills The town of Segesta was founded in the pre-Hellenic age by the Elymian, a population of uncertain origin, probably oriental; it was the eternal enemy of Selinunte, against which in 409 BC it called for the help of the Carthaginians, who razed Selinunte to the ground. The destruction of Selinunte marked once and for all the entry of Segesta into the Punic orbit. Under the Romans the town was weel treated, thanks to a “blood relationship” supposed to exist between the two populations, but nevertheless it declined, and its name was quite forgotten. So far little of it has been excavated, the two most important monuments brought to light are the Temple and the Theatre. The 5th century Siculian-Doric temple stands imposingly on a hillock in the middle of a picturesque valley. The Greek theatre, carved in the rock and dated to the 2nd century BC, overlooks the valley from the top of Mount Barbaro.
In Italian history its name is linked to the landing of Garibaldi, who started here the exploit to lead to the unification of the Kingdom of Italy. Most people, however, know it rather as the place of production of the refined liqueur named after it. Marsala is also rich in Carthaginian, Roman, Norman, Arab and Spanish monuments, which bear witness to the long and interesting history of the town, like for istance the Chartaginian necropolis, the Roman Villa with its wonderful mosaics, the 5th century Christian baptistery and the remains of the city walls built under Roger I. .
During a stay in Marsala one cannot help visiting the archaeological Museum of Baglio Anselmi (which contains a remarkable example of marine archaeology: a Chartaginian ship dating back to the 2nd century BC) or the plants where the world famous Marsala wine is made.
The Mount Cofano Reserve is a very evocative place, especially for those who love trekking, nature and a beautiful sea where the ancient seafaring and rural activities still live in total harmony with a protected and unspoiled environment. Honored with the title of Nature Reserve for its naturalistic, speleological, historical, folkloristic and landscape value, Mount Cofano rises up as a pyramid above the sea, between Custonaci and San Vito lo Capo.
A lot of places are worth a visit inside the Reserve, On the side of the mountain, karst caves that have been inhabited until the first half of the 20th century are an evidence of the human presence since the Paleolithic era, and also a beautiful scenariofor a living Christmas crib. Along the paths that stands between the perimeter of the mountain and the shore, one meet the San Giovanni Tower (recently restored): part of a complex of Spanish coastal watchtowers. Moreover, the little church of the Crucifix, destination of local pilgrimages since a hundred years ago; the homonymous cave with a perfectly triangular entrance, where exhibits of prehistorical civilizations have been found. At the end of this path one can take a bath in one of the wonderful coves, or visit the Cofano watchtower (built in the 16th century), next to an ancient Tonnara.
The promontory of San Vito lo Capo shares its name with the beach and the fishing village which developed around an old Saracen fortress, later turned into a shrine dedicated to San Vito. San Vito is an ancient marine town, whose main activity was fishing but today tourism is its main source of income thanks to its climate, sea and beaches.
San Vito was made into an institution only at the end of the 18th century, although a lot of traces and archaeological finds date back the man’s presence to Prehistoric Age. Around the 4th century BC, the first inhabitants settled down in that part of the village called “Borgata Conturrana”; at that time the first part of the fortress was built in the town centre (nowadays it is the Sanctuary dedicated to San Vito). During the following centuries, sighting towers and defensive bulwarks were built along the outer edge of San Vito lo Capo to defend the village against pirate raids. There were three main towers: Scieri tower, Isolidda tower and Roccazzo tower; nowadays only two of them may still be seen since Roccazzo tower, once on Piano Soprano (in the west part of the village) has been pulled down to leave its place to a military station in 1935. At the beginning of the 18th century, few houses were built near the Sanctuary and, at the end of the same century, a little group of few houses surrounded the church. San Vito was founded and since then has begun to grow.
Scopello is a tiny village on the coast between the fishing and resort town of Castellammare del Golfo and the Zingaro Nature Reserve. In this part of the Sicilian coastline there are attractive stretches of rocky coastline and green hillside. Scopello settlement consist of a historical baglio, the “Baglio Isonzo”, and a couple of attractive little lanes only a few yards long. The baglio was the headsquare of an agriculture estate and now is the heart of the village: its large courtyard offers shade and respite from sun.
Scopello village is a pleasant one: a combination of manmade and natural features have created a gloriously scenic little cove wich can be glimpsed from the village and explored up close by swimmers and sun-bathers. Offshore there are dramatic faraglioni, rock towers in the sea. Two historic defensive towers stand poised on the rocks, combining with a third tower up by the village to unify the wider views. In the small rocky bay there is a faded old tonnara, a tuna fishery: an important part of the history of Sicily. Scopello’s tonnara closed down in 1980s, but for a couple of decades it remained as it was left, and visitors could wander among the old buildings and tuna fishing equipment. Lots of publicity and the shooting of many movies (including “Ocean’s Twelve”) gave to the owners of Scopello’s tonnara the idea to renovated it and closed off to the public.
Not so far from Scopello, there is Castellammare del Golfo. The town’s main activities are closely related to the location and the development of the port, which lies in the place of the old emporium of Segesta.
The first nature reserve set up in Sicily takes in a stretch of about seven kilometres of splendid and absolutely unspoilt coastline looking out on the Gulf of Castellammare and the mountain chain serving as a magnificent setting for little bays and imposing cliffs..
Zingaro is very important for the great richness of rare and endemic plants, and it is perhaps even more so as regards fauna: the existence of very varied ecological niches permits very great variety of fauna, not to be found in other places on the island. The reserve is a real oasis of biodiversity, also rich in many rare native plants like the dwarf palm, the symbol of Zingaro, which spontaneously grows in every recess and declivity. At the Zingaro reserve at least thirty-nine species of birds nest and reproduce, mainly birds of prey, including the pilgrim falcon, the windhover and the buzzard. The reserve is also of great archaeological importance, because in the spectacular Uzzo cave there was one of the first prehistoric settlements in Sicily. Magnificently organized for public enjoyment (path with exact indications, shelters, waterplaces, picnic areas, museums, carparks, etc.), the reserve can only be visited on foot, as there are no roads inside it. The itineraries best representing the various aspects of Zingaro are three: one going all along the coast from the south-east entrance (Scopello side) to the north entrance (San Vito side); one going halfway and then turning into one of the higher Zingaro zones and back to the sea; and a more difficult one, practically a complete tour, taking in both the coast and the whole upper part of the reserve.
An event that marked the history and territory of Trapani was the earthquake occurred in the Belice Valley in 1968, which completely destroyed the town of Gibellina and threatened to shatter the population’s history, culture, values and expectations. The reconstruction of Gibellina Nuova (New Gibellina) has allowed the preservation of rural customs as well as the development of a new future-oriented culture, pushing the town towards a cosmopolitan direction.
One approaching the town, one goes past the grandiose sculpture Stella Di Consagra, one of the symbols of Gibellina Nuova. The suddenly one is surrounded by a kind of virtual reality, consisting of the Sistema delle Piazze, the Church, the futuristic works of art at every street corner and the reconstructed Palazzo di Lorenzo and Baglio delle Case di Stefano. Accardi, Consagra, Quaroni and other distinguished artists have given their contribution to the new identity of Gibellina Nuova. On the ruins of the old town Alberto Burri created the Cretto, an artificial scenery to memorize the past and crystalize the catastrophic event. Every year this place hosts the theatrical performance of the Orestiadi of Gibellina. Not so far from Gibellina you can find Partanna; Partanna, situated between the Modione and Belice valleys, was probably an old Sicanian settlements. The oldest part of the town centre, surrounded by walls, was built in the 14th century around the castle and the Mother Church. Just opposite Gibellina, the town of Salemi is perched on the slope of Monte delle Rose, between the Mazzaro and Grande rivers. This was the place of the ancient Sicanian town of Halicyae, allied with Segesta. The main attraction of this medieval town include the superb Norman castle, the baroque Mother Church, the complex of the Church and College of the Jesuits and the Jewish quarter. Popular feelings and deep religiousness find their utmost expression in the traditional, colourful and artistic festival of the Cene of San Giuseppe. At the end, Castelvetrano, that is the biggest centre of this area: it has a historic centre full of palaces and churches. Particularly noteworthy is the Church of the Trinity of Delia, which is among the greatest monuments of artistic prestige of the city Belice.
The ancient town looks out on the Sicilian Channel to the left of the river Mazarò, presumably on the site where the Phoenicians founded the commercial colony Mazara, a native name perhaps meaning “castle”. Thanks to its position, it acquired importance both as a port and as a fortress. It flourished to some extent during the Roman domination too, and there are some vestiges of the latter period. It attained true splendor under the Arabs. They landed at Mazara to start the colonization of the island and placed the town at the head of one of the three administrative districts into which they divided Sicily. The various Islamic travelers who visited it praised the fertility of its territory, the quality and quantity of commercial activities, the economic prosperity, the flourishing plantations and gardens, the beauty of the buildings. All this have indelibly remained in the town, the street layout having been handed down intact. With the incoming of the Normans, the town was enriched with churches, convents and monasteries, and a boundary wall was put up round it. New monuments were later built in the 16th to 18th centuries, and in 1852, with the demolition of Roger’s walls, expansion began in the surrounding area. The main monument is the Cathedral, dedicated to San Salvatore. It was originally built at the end of the 11th century and then totally redone in 1690-94. There are a few vestiges of the original construction, and specifically the walls of the transept and the apse, decorated outside with niches, as in the ancient pseudo-Arab style of the Norman epoch. The most outstanding work of art among those kept inside the church is a “Transfiguration”, a marble composition of six statues done, with a markable folk taste from sacred representations, by Antonio Gagini in 1430’s.
The most famous museum is the one which holds the “Dancing Satyr”, the most representative work of art of the city, discovered in 1998 by a local fishing vessel in the waters of the Straits of Sicily.