Marsala: “The city that looks to Libya”
The Trapani area offers an extraordinary mix of history, culture and naturalistic beauties. An example is Marsala, a town in Trapani very popular with tourists for the possibilities it offers in all the areas listed above.
History of Marsala
Initially called Lilibeo, or “the city that looks to Libya”, it was initially controlled by the Phoenicians and then passed to the domination of the Romans. After this passage it became one of the most important centers of the Mediterranean and was enriched with villas and public buildings.
After dark centuries between the continuous invasions of the Vandals and the lack of interest on the part of Byzantium, it regained importance in the eighth century with the advent of the barbarians. In addition to growing in terms of commercial importance and experiencing a general city renaissance, it was given the name of Marsala (from marsā ʿaliyy, or “the port of Ali”). The city also grew on the urban plan, structuring itself according to the Arab model.
Later, with the birth of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, it was inserted in the province of Trapani by Ferdinand I of Bourbon. On 11 May 1860 the landing of Giuseppe Garibaldi with his Thousand of him began precisely from Marsala. Thus the unification of Italy began, which later brought Marsala back to the province of Trapani.
What to see: from the monuments to the Marsala salt pans
Marsala hosts numerous buildings that deserve to be visited. On the religious level, the most important is certainly the Mother Church, built in 1176. Its facade has two orders: one in Baroque style and the other with two corner domed bell towers and several statues of saints. Inside, however, it houses paintings dating back to the seventeenth century and various precious objects from ancient times. This cathedral is dedicated to St. Thomas Becket, due to a shipwreck near Marsala by a ship loaded with Corinthian columns and bound for England where a church dedicated to this saint was to be built.
Among the symbols of the city there is also Porta Garibaldi, built in 1685 at the behest of the King of Spain and Sicily, Charles II and initially called Porta Mare. It was later named after Garibaldi because, just passing through this gate in 1860, it declared Marsala part of the Kingdom of Italy.
If the Mother Church is the most important in the city, the Church of Purgatory is considered by many to be the most beautiful religious building in Marsala. Its internal and external decorations are a magnificent example of the Sicilian Baroque style. Furthermore, this church overlooks a small square away from the city nightlife and with a small but well-built fountain.
From an artistic point of view, it is impossible not to mention the Flemish Tapestry Museum. It is managed by the Mother Church and houses tapestries belonging to the 16th century. For those who have more naturalistic interests, the Saline della Laguna is a must. The landscape is typical of the salt pans, with basins, mills and ponds, also hosting species of aquatic birds such as herons and flamingos.
What to do during your stay
In addition to visiting the numerous buildings that Marsala houses, during your stay in the town of Trapani it is advisable to stop in Piazza della Repubblica. It is the heart of the city, a meeting point for locals and tourists and full of bars and shops.
An ideal place to take a walk is the Cassaro, corresponding to via XI Maggio or the main street of the center. Always very crowded, it is ideal for shopping but also for stopping for a coffee. Among what this area offers there is also a series of wine bars, where you can enjoy a good glass of Sicilian and non-Sicilian wines. For the evening, however, the point of Marsala with the greatest nightlife is the Antico Mercato area.
Cuisine and typical dishes of the area
Among the typical dishes of the gastronomic tradition of Marsala, the eggplant caponata stands out. A dish that saw fish as the main ingredient in the baronial cuisine, while the poor cuisine enhanced the vegetables more. Other dishes that have entered the culture of the area have different origins (Arab, North African and Spanish), namely pasta with broccoli and fish couscous.
To taste these and other dishes, Marsala offers excellent restaurants. La Bottega del Carmine is a great place to savor Mediterranean cuisine, while Natura a Tavola and Osteria Siciliando are more specialized in the cuisine of the area.
Beaches of Marsala
The stretch of coast in the Marsala area is characterized by very white sand and bathed in crystal clear water.
The most famous and popular beaches in Marsala are Lido Mediterraneo, Lido delfino and Lido Signorino. In the northern area of Marsala there is Punta Tramontana, which belongs to a Protected Natural Reserve called “Lo Stagnone”. It is an uncrowded area and ideal for relaxation, where there is another very beautiful beach, that of San Teodoro.
The other particularly famous place in the surroundings of Palermo is Mondello, with its white sand and rocky promontories spotted with vegetation in the distance that offer a breathtaking view.
How to come
Marsala can be reached by car, taking the A29 motorway. Not wanting to reach the town of Trapani with this means of transport, you can opt for the bus (thanks to the Autoservizi Salemi line) or the train. In addition, Marsala is 14 km from Trapani airport (about 20 minutes by car) and 137 from Palermo airport (an hour and a quarter by car).