This city is a mix of land and sea, a shining jewel among all precious treasures of Sicily. It’s an essential destination for art, architecture, history and landscape: welcome to Trapani.
Trapani: where and what
Splendid Sicily is almost like a continent rich in peoples, tastes, nature, sensibilities where everything expands to infinity. A sweet and harsh land, soft and rough, bright and veiled: a world full of art and history. And today I’m taking you with me to one of the unique places on the island. I’m talking about the spectacular Trapani and their 10 wonders to see: let’s discover them!
Meanwhile, let’s define where we are.
Here we are, near the extreme western point of Sicily at the junction of two seas, the Channel of Sicily and the Tyrrhenian Sea. It rises and extends over a narrow strip of land, a peninsula shaped like a sickle on the waves: this is Trapani. All around, any visitor can see a unique and incomparable scenery that seems to summarize the essence of Sicily: the Mediterranean scrub, the rocky promontories, the clear stones, the long beaches…
And now let’s discover some curiosities!
Did you know that it is called ‘The City of the Five Towers’ because it is protected by a system of towers that have both lookout and defense functions? Do you know that in the Middle Ages the port was one of the most important in the world for trade with Africa? And have you ever heard that in the 16th century people believed that the coral jewels that were created here were useful to protect against some diseases, in fact even nowadays they are gifted as amulets?
And do you know that you can find some windmills while visiting the ancient salt pans? This is the reason why Trapani is also known as the ‘City of salt’. Do you know that is also the Italian capital of sailing so much so that it hosted the acts of the last Luis Vuitton Cup and other international events? You will be amazed to see Greek remains, Arab watchtowers, astronomical clocks, Baroque palaces, heavenly islands and endless beaches coexist!
Trapani: how and when
Nowadays the city is one of the most famous and touristic places in Sicily but how and when did Trapani become so popular? According to mythology, they say that the name refers to the sickle fallen from the hands of Demeter while she was desperately searching her daughter Persephone in Sicily. When the sickle fell down, it was turned into an arched peninsula where the city called Drepanon (that means sickle in ancient Greek) rose. In protohistoric times, the first inhabitants were the Elymians and the small town served as a commercial port for the powerful city of Erice. It was allied for many centuries with Carthage, then in 241 BC. it became a Roman colony and war after war, the Vandals and the Byzantines arrived.
But in the 9th century the Arabs arrived and changed the name to Tràpanesch during the two millennia of their presence. As in the rest of the Island of Light, they were able to boost agriculture and trade. When the Normans led by Roger I in 1077 conquered all the maritime cities such as Genoa, Pisa, Venice and Amalfi, they stopped in the port of Trapani. The city grew prosperous and rich. So, as in the rest of Sicily, the aristocratic families from all over Europe gradually arrived: Spaniards, Savoy and Bourbon! The latter reclaimed many areas of the city, pushing the urban development and starting the salt and tuna industry. In 1861 Trapani joined the Kingdom of Italy: the rest is modern history…
10 wonders to see in Trapani: let’s find out the top three!
Well now you know enough to go further and as I promised, I will list one by one 10 wonders to see in Trapani: let’s discover them!
1 – The historic center with the Baroque palaces and the Tramontana Walls
Let’s start our day in the historic center of Trapani, the city of the two seas where everything looks like an open-air museum! The ancient city is on a narrow strip of land and is characterized by small squares, twisted alleys and baroque palaces such as Senatorio Palace. The starting point of our journey could be the Ligny Tower and the arrival point – on the other side of the ‘sickle’ – could be the Lazzaretto and Villino Nasi. I will talk about the Towers and the Churches in a while, but now let’s focus on the Tramontana Walls. It is a mighty and ancient wall that was built during the Spanish period against the naval attacks. Here is a tidbit: it seems incredible but from some spots and streets of the city you can really see the sea both by turning right and turning left!
2 – The Ligny Tower and the Colombaia Tower
In our visit we cannot miss a stop in front of one of the most famous symbols of Trapani that is located on the most western side of the town: the Ligny Tower. It was built in the 17th century as a fortress by the sea, it later became a lighthouse and now is a museum: what a story! Another tidbit: if you go there in the afternoon, get ready to see and take a photo of the beautiful sunsets where everything becomes orange. Among the ancient towers that protected the city, a place of honor belongs to the Castello del Mare also known as Torre della Colombaia (Colombaia Tower). It was built on a very small island near the coast, and according to the legend, it certainly already existed in the Carthaginian period. Ready for the perfect shot?
3 – The Cathedral of St. Lawrence and the Church of the Holy Souls in Purgatory
And now we keep on walking to visit the Cathedral of St. Lawrence. It is known as the Cathedral of Trapani and was built around the 14th century on the remains of an older church. Unfortunately, over the centuries it was damaged, and several changes occurred. Nowadays it has a beautiful Baroque facade with an elegant three-arched portico.
Just a few meters away, we already see the Church of the Holy Souls in Purgatory, one of the most important churches in Trapani. It was built at the end of the 17th century and has an incredible peculiarity: it includes an Arab watchtower that is the bell tower of the church! Moreover, it houses the famous Mysteries of Trapani, we are talking about 20 groups of statues, each of them is associated to a job or category. All wooden and life-size, they represent some scenes from the Passion and are carried all around the city every Good Friday.
10 wonders to see in Trapani: let’s find out two more!
4 – Porta Oscura and the Clock Tower
Let’s move on and visit another unique attraction…close to the Senatorial Palace and three minutes away from the Cathedral, here is the Porta Oscura and the Clock Tower. The gate dates back to the 13th century and is part of one of the famous ancient towers but the real attraction is higher up. So, let’s look up and observe something that may seem really strange: the Clock Tower. Actually, it does not indicate the time, but the hands indicate the star signs, the solstices, the equinoxes, the seasons and the cardinal points, while in the Lunario the phases of the moon are indicated. Here we are in front of one of the oldest astronomical clocks in Europe that dates back to 1596! It’s surprising, isn’t it?
5 – ‘La Salerniana’ Museum of Contemporary Art and the Regional Museum ‘Agostino Pepoli’
You are appreciating this walk through the streets of Trapani, don’t you? So, let’s stay in the city center and if you like modern art, ‘La Salerniana’ Museum of Contemporary Art must be in your bucket list. It is housed inside the Palazzo della Vicaria, and the collection includes more than 80 works including paintings and statues created by modern Italian artists. And after having admired it, it is time to leave the historic center and discover an important institution in the city. I’m talking about the Regional Museum ‘Agostino Pepoli’ that is located in the ancient convent of the Carmelite Fathers (14th century) outside the famous sickle-shaped peninsula. Here it is possible to see the exhibition of some works that came about in this area: paintings, sculptures, nativity scenes, majolica, goldsmithing and precious works made of coral. Don’t miss it!
10 wonders to see in Trapani: let’s find out more and more!
We visited 5 out of 10 wonders to see in Trapani! Now it’s time to get to know the surrounding area: let’s go!
6 – Erice
It’s time to take our car to visit one of the most famous places on the Island of Light, that in 2014 has been elected as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy (Borghi più belli d’Italia)! This town is just 15 kilometers away from Trapani and is reachable by cable car, welcome to Erice on the top of Monte San Giuliano. Thanks to the strategic position, it was ‘exploited’ by several peoples who have left huge marks: Phoenicians, Normans, Arabs and Romans.
Wear a pair of comfortable shoes and keep your smartphone with you: I promise breathtaking discoveries and incredible views! The symbol of the town is the Norman Castle of Venus that was built on the ancient temple of Venus Ericina. From the Balio garden adjacent to the towers, you can see the salt pans, the Aegadian Islands and even the promontory of Capo San Vito. Do not miss the cyclopean Elymian-Phoenix walls of the 8th century BC and the 14th century Mother Church.
7 – Segesta and Selinunte
It takes about 40 minutes by car from Trapani to reach a magical place that brings us back in time, to the archaic Greek civilization. The ancient city of Segesta stands on Monte Barbaro in the municipality of Calatafimi and was already mentioned by Virgil in the ‘Aeneid’. Since 2013, the Archaeological Park of Segesta has protected various areas related to various eras of the city. The best known is the Greek area with the Doric Temple that looks like the ones we can see in Agrigento, the Ancient Theater and the Agora.
Even the medieval area is interesting since it preserves the ancient walls, two Norman churches, a castle next to the theater and a mosque. Here is a tidbit: every summer in the theater they organize some performances of classical Greek tragedies and comedies, but even some modern dance shows and concerts!
So, now let’s go to Selinunte and in about an hour we’ll arrive in the largest archaeological park in Europe. Close to Castelvetrano, here is the evidence of the great Greek colony with three Doric Temples, the Sanctuary of Malophoros and the immense acropolis with the ancient walls. Did you know that the continuous rivalry with Segesta led these two cities to fight until the destruction of Selinunte happened in 409 BC?
8 – The salt pans of Trapani, Paceco and Mothya Island
Don’t miss to visit the salt pans that made the city rich thanks to the trade throughout Europe of the so-called ‘White gold’. Nowadays the area of 100 hectares has become the Nature Reserve of the Salt pans of Trapani and Paceco. You will be amazed by the big tanks, by thousand shades and by the incredible windmills by the sea! Here is a tidbit: have you ever seen how beautiful pink flamingos are?
Well, get ready to take exceptional shots with them and other birds living in the reserve! Moreover, the salt pans extend up to the town of Marsala and the famous Stagnone. I sincerely recommend you this little treasure: Mothya island! On this small strip of land, the Phoenicians built a gorgeous city that was recently rediscovered by the excavations of Mr. Whitaker. This islet is so unique and important that maybe it will be one of the next UNESCO sites in Sicily!
10 wonders to see in Trapani: let’s find out the last two ones!
9 – The Aegadian Islands
Do we want to do something really special? Do we want to collect some unique memories? So, let’s go back to Trapani and take the hydrofoil to go and discover the Aegadian Islands. In addition to the famous Favignana, Marettimo and Levanzo, this wonderful archipelago includes some other smaller and uninhabited islands: Formica, Maraone, Stagnone and Galeotta. Sea…sea…sea is the only centerpiece of these lands where silence is broken only by the wind that passes through the Mediterranean green scrub. This landscape is absolutely unique, in fact the Protected Marine Area of the Aegadian Islands was created to protect it.
10 – Beaches
Finally, we are at the last of the 10 wonders to see in Trapani. Do not forget that like many other Sicilian cities, even Trapani – economically speaking – ‘lives’ thanks to the sea (in this case thanks to ‘two seas’) and so does all the coasts of the province. The beaches expand for miles and miles. Mostly free and largely uncontaminated coasts: either fine sand or clear pebbles, it’s up to you. So, enjoy e choose according to your personal preferences: I recommend you try as many as possible!
However, I would like to point out some of them like the spectacular sea stacks of Scopello located by an enchanting bay near an ancient tuna fishery. All beaches in San Vito lo Capo are very, very popular in summer and are known all around Italy. In this town, every year they organize some events such as the Kite Festival and the Cous Cous Fest. Last but not least, Castellammare del Golfo offers some coasts characterized by blue and crystalline water alternating sandy beaches and rocky bays. I want to underline that trekking and nature lovers must visit the Zingaro Nature Reserve, the best example of symbiosis of sea and land, flora and fauna. About 7 kilometers of coastline from Castellammare del Golfo to San Vito lo Capo are waiting for you!
Did I surprise you with these 10 wonders to see in Trapani? Don’t think that’s all! Sicily is much more than this: come and discover it thanks to the itineraries organized by Dimensione Sicilia. One of the best ideas? Eco-tours by electric cars! These itineraries are customizable itineraries according to your time and budget to enjoy 8 days in Western and Eastern Sicily or 14 days, if you prefer. You will visit the most beautiful places on the island such as 10 UNESCO sites of Sicily including Trapani and its surroundings. Or if you want to enjoy the beauties of the island in a different way, pick one of the tours suggested by Sicilian Secrets. In safety we trust, let’s go!
See you soon!
Translated by Gaia Guarino