The Province of Trapani juts out into the sea from Sicily’s west into the Tyrrhenian Sea. This enchanting land is composed of marvelous coasts that alternate with steep cliffs and endless beaches. The archaeological remains, small villages and the traditions of daily life make the province a very attractive tourist destination.
Besides the capital city of the province, Trapani, other cities and places of interest include Marsala, Segesta, Gibellina, Erice, Castelvetrano, Alcamo, Mazara del Vallo, Castellammare del Golfo and Mozia. The nearby island of Pantelleria, noted for its wine production and the Aegadian Islands are also part of the province.
The Trapani Coast, one of the most impressive in Italy, contains remarkable scenery, particularly the Gulf of Castellammare, with its seafront full of cliffs, alternating with beautiful beaches. Scopello is particularly renowned for both its sea stacks, tall rock formations that have remained when the surrounding stone has eroded and for its near-transparent sea. An example of this beguiling scenery is found in the town of San Vito Lo Capo, with its white beaches situated along a sheltered bay. In the town center, the 15th century Santuario di San Vito is a fortress-like structure whose style reflects the Norman influence, which can also be seen in the tiny Santa Crescenzia chapel on the main road out of town and in the circular Torrazzo watchtower.
Trapani is in many ways quite different from other major cities of Sicily. Where Palermo is renowned for its majesty, Catania for its beauty and Syracuse for its elegance, Trapani is where the history and soul of Sicily resides.
Along the winding streets of the city lined with buildings of Baroque facades, you feel the essence of a people that will bend, but cannot be broken. Few centuries passed without invading ships appearing on the horizon. The cycle began with the Phoenicians, continued under the Romans, but by the end of the Empire, the Vandals, Byzantines and finally the Arabs assumed rule over the area. It was during the latter period that the maritime tradition of Trapani was established, in great part due to the goldsmiths in the city. That period ended with the Norman Conquest in the 11th century, but the Trapanese are an adaptable people. They began to export salt, coral and tuna to the Aragonese people with such success that Trapani became a crossing point for the Crusades. After the Victory of Tunis in 1535, Emperor Carlo V visited the city and provided it with a new defensive system. The city’s historic center is fascinating, with several splendid monuments dating back to different eras of its past. Make sure to visit the Basilica di San Lorenzo with its elegant Baroque façade and interior as well as the Sanctuary of the Annunziata. Leave enough time to tour the Pepoli Regional Museum, which traces the evolution of Trapani’s artistic heritage from ancient times through today.
For the best view of Trapani and as a superb scenic location, visit the town of Erice, which sits atop Mont St. Giuliano. Also of interest are the town walls which date back to the 8th century BC, as well as a Norman castle and the Cordici museum that contains archaeological finds and paintings from the 18th century.
The city of Marsala is famous for a number of things. Immediately, the fortified dessert wine from the area is a name known to most, but it is also known for its salt production. Today the processes are still performed by hand, resulting in an exceptionally high-quality salt that sells for high prices. Water is drained from the shallow ponds used to crystalize the salt by windmills that treat visitors to a scene that appears to be centuries old.
The heart of Marsala is Piazza della Repubblica. Not only is it a pleasant place to walk, it is also the home of the city’s Duomo, dedicated to St. Thomas a Becket. The Duomo has had a rather unlucky career, having been rebuilt several times on its original Norman foundations. After a 17th century reconstruction, the building collapsed in the 19th century. It was rebuilt, but was then severely damaged again during WWII. The final touches were put to the facade 60 years ago. You will see other restorations of historic buildings in Marsala, many carried out recently. A few buildings have been re-interpreted with a bold modernist style, setting off their surviving original features.
The province of Trapani is particularly renowned for the extraordinary cultural heritage spread throughout its area, including the archaeological areas of Selinunte, Segesta and Mozia.
Spellbound 18th century travelers on the Sicilian leg of the Grand Tour referred to Selinunte as the City of the Gods. The city was founded around the year 700 BC and is undoubtedly one of the most important archaeological area of the Mediterranean. The majesty of the ruins is evidence of the greatness of the colony. The temples are denoted using letters, since it has been impossible to determine which god each was dedicated to. The archaeological area is divided in three sections – the Eastern Temples, the Acropolis and the Extra Urban Sanctuary. Within the area of Eastern Temples lies one that was never finished (G), but was colossal in its proportions, with floor space of over 75,000 square feet. For anyone with an interest in architecture, make sure to look closely at Temple E. It is considered to be the most perfect example of the Doric style in Sicily. In the Acropolis are the older temples A, C and D, protected by the fortifications and by the grand boundary walls, in addition to two necropolises.
The ancient city of Segesta was founded by the Elymi, the ancient rivals of the Selinunte. On Mont Barbaro stand two beautiful works referred to as the Temple and the Theatre. Perfectly preserved, the 5th century BC temple stands imposingly on a hill in the middle of a picturesque valley. On the highest peak of mountain there is the Greek theatre dating from the 2nd century BC which could hold 4,000 spectators. The town is also known for its thermal baths that exploit the properties of the special waters for treatments and therapies.
Mozia is the third notable archaeological site of the province. Situated on Isola di San Pantaleo, it is very close to the salt ponds of Marsala. The exquisite marble Motya Charioteer, found in 1979, is world famous and is on display in the island’s Giuseppe Whitaker Museum. The arms and base of the statue were not found at the site and remain missing. It is possible that the statue was originally displayed in the nearby sanctuary and was knocked down during the Syracusan Siege in the 4th century BC.
Castelvetrano is situated in a valley between the Delia and Belice rivers. The town’s old center is marked by many palaces and churches of different styles, ranging from Renaissance influences to early Baroque. In 1487, Pope Innocent VIII granted Nino III Tagliavia permission to build a Dominican convent in the town. Within Chiesa di San Domenico is the genealogical tree of the Tagliavia family, executed in vividly painted figures. The church complex is immense and well worth the visit. While in the town, also leave time to visit Chiesa di Purgatorio and the 13th century Palazzo Pignatelli.
To the north, bordering Palermo and surrounded by vineyards, sits the beautiful town of Alcamo, the fourth largest in the province of Trapani. Alcamo became a wealthy hamlet in the 14th century due to its production of wine, wheat and leather goods. After the unification of Italy, the city walls were restructured, leaving the ancient town layout intact. A visit to the town should include stops at the Chiesa della Annunziata, the Torre De Ballis and the Conti di Modica Castle, now a museum and popular venue for destination weddings.
In 1968, the town of Gibellina was destroyed by the earthquake that struck the Belice Valley. The new town was built seven miles away and was designed by many of the most prominent artists and architects in Italy. Its architecture is quite different from any that you will otherwise see in Sicily. Ruderi di Gibellina, the ruins of the small city became a ghost-town until numerous artists transformed it into an open air museum of modern art. It is in a word – unique.
Off the coast lie the Aegadian Islands. The small mountainous group of islands measure a mere 14 square miles, but for what they lack in size, they more than make up for it in individuality. Dating back to prehistoric times, the caves on the islands of Levanzo and Favignana display wall paintings which intrepid visitors can visit to see examples of both Paleolithic and Neolithic art. From the 17th century, the islands belonged to the Genoese family Pallavicini-Rusconi until 1874, when they were sold to Palermo’s Florio family, who helped to create the prolific tuna fishing industry that exists today. The largest of the three main islands, Favignana is shaped like a butterfly and is featured in Homer’s Odyssey. Today it is known for its beautiful beaches and crystal clear waters.