Erice Tourist Attractions
CommunicationsBus and cable-car connections with Trapani (the latter, however, is not operating at the present time).Cultural eventsGood Friday procession; "Venere d'Argento", summer festival; "Zampogna d'Oro", festival with folk instruments in December.
LocationPerched on the 751m/2,464ft high mountain of Érice, the Mons Eryx of antiquity, lies the quiet mountain town, as if on a rocky bastion towering over large parts of Western Sicily. From its lofty heights a superb view can be enjoyed.TownscapeAlthough the evidence of its ancient past has to a large extent disappeared, the medieval townscape has been retained right up to the present day, the narrow little streets winding between densely-packed houses having their own unmistakable atmosphere.Myth and HistoryThe Mons Eryx has from early times been the seat of a cult of the old Mediterranean mother deity, whom is it thought the Phoenicians named the "goddess of Eryx". She was venerated by the Elymians, who founded a settlement here, and later ranked in importance with the Carthaginian goddess, Astarte, the Greek goddess, Aphrodite and the Roman Venus. The cult was connected with the sacred prostitution of the Hierodulians. The location of the temple is known, though the building is no longer extant. Ancient tradition ascribes the foundation of the town and its temple to Eryx, a son of Poseidon and Aphrodite. He was defeated in battle by Heracles but was permitted to retain power, on condition that he subsequently cede it to a descendant of Heracles. According to Virgil the Trojan Aeneas came to the Eryx on his journey from Carthage to Rome, and erected a temple there to his mother Aphrodite/Venus.Another tradition says that the walls around the temple to Aphrodite are the work of Daedalus fleeing from Crete to Sicily.The legend of Heracles and Eryx was referred to by the Spartan Dorieus (a brother of Leonidas, the hero of the Thermopyles 490 B.C.), when he tried in 510 B.C. to found a Greek colony called Heracleia at the foot of Mount Eryx. Herodotus records that he was defeated by the Phoenicians and the Elymians of Segesta and met his death in the conflict. In 489 B.C. the tyrant Gelon of Gela attempted to continue this strategy against the Carthaginians and Elymians and thereby avenge Dorieus, but the latter's native city of Sparta denied him any support in his endeavors and thus his plan foundered.Segesta, to which Eryx continued to be subordinate, tempted the Athenians - as we learn in Thucydides (6,46) - to undertake their Sicilian adventure, part of the attraction for which was the apparently rich treasures that Eryx boasted in its temple: "The Segestans, however, had worked out the following ruse for when the first envoys from Athens arrived in order to convince themselves of the Segestans' money. They led the Athenians up to the Temple of Aphrodite on Mount Eryx and there showed them oblations, vessels, pitchers, incense urns and many other implements, coated in silver, which, while of little actual value, had a much greater impact on the eye of the beholder. And in every house they hosted the crews from the ships, to which end they sought out all the gold and silver cups in Segesta and borrowed others from neighboring Phoenician and Hellenic towns and used them for their entertaining as if they had all actually belonged to them. As almost all of them brought out the same dishes over and over again, and there was so much to see everywhere, it all made the greatest possible impression on the Athenians, who returned home making it known wherever they went what wealth they had seen there."In the ensuing period Eryx was a Carthaginian base until the end of the first Punic War. In 260 B.C. Hamilcar founded Drepanon (Trapani) from here. In 241 B.C., however, the town fell to Rome. As the Romans traced themselves back to Aeneas, the Temple of Eryx, being seen as a foundation of Aeneas, was highly regarded and the inhabitants (Veneris servi), to whom the Hierodulians belonged, held a special position. Tiberius (14-37 A.D.) had the now derelict temple restored, as did Claudius (41-54 A.D.) after him.Subsequently the building fell into decline. The Arabs named Eryx Gebel-Hamed, the Normans named it Monte San Giuliano (after the conqueror of the Saracens, Julianus); this name was only replaced by the ancient one in 1934. In Saracen and Norman times the fortified mountain town was a refuge for the inhabitants of Trapani, which was later to eclipse Eryx.
The outline of Érice is triangular. The winding streets end in the southwest corner, in front of the Porta Trapani, one of the three Norman gates placed along the length of the town wall. It is possible, however, to go by bus or car on the outside of the town on the south side as far as the town park (Giardino del Balio). This was where, in the southeast corner, the ancient acropolis stood and it is the best place to begin a tour of the town.
Passing through the park (named after the Norman Balio (governor), with its luxuriant greenery, we come to the medieval Castello Pepoli, which stands on the site of the ancient acropolis.
Castello di Venere
Through the Via Roma to the Piazza San Giuliano, in which stands the church of the same name, which was built under Roger II in 1076 and restored in the 17th/18th centuries. The Via Filippo Guarnotti leads to the Church of San Carlo (17th century on the left) and immediately after it on the right to the Church of San Pietro (1363, restored in the 18th century) as well as the nearby Instituto di San Rocco,a former monastery.The street opens out on to the Piazza San Domenico with the Church of San Michele founded in 1486. Today this church, like San Rocco, is used by the cultural organization "Ettore Majorana". This research center was founded in 1963 and named after a Sicilian scientist (in 1965 the writer Leonardo Sciascia wrote a novel, "La scomparsa di Majorana", "The Fall of Ettore Majorana", 1978, which is concerned with the scientist's fate). The research center encompasses 80 branches of science. It published the "Manifesto di Erice" in 1982, a polemic against the nuclear arms race.
San Giovanni Battista
To the east of San Giuliano in Érice, in the square of the same name, stands the Chiesa San Giovanni Battista. The east gate of the original building, in the Gothic-Norman style, can still be seen. Inside there are works from the 15th and 16th centuries, including some by Antonello Gagini (1531) and Antonio Gagini (1525).
Going in a southwesterly direction, we pass through the Via Cordici, the Via Fontana and the Via Salerno, arriving at the Gothic Church of San Martino (1339, restored 1682 and 1858), then returning as far as the Piazza Umberto I, where the town hall, library (20,000 volumes) and the Museo Comunale A. Cordici are situated.
Museo Comunale A Cordici
The Museo Comunale A. Cordici in Érice contains local finds belonging to Neolithic, Punic, Greek and Roman culture, including a fine head of Aphrodite from the fourth century B.C., recalling the one-time veneration of that goddess, as well as jewelry, bronze statues, terracotta and marble sculptures, including Antonello Gagini's statue of the Annunziata from the Chiesa del Carmine.
Address: Piazza Umberto I, I-91016 Érice, Italy
Always closed on: Epiphany (3 Kings' Day ) - Christian (Jan 6), New Year's Day (Jan 1), Liberation Day - Italy (Apr 25), May Day / Labor Day (May 1), Festival of the Tricolor - Italy (May 12), Feast of St John the Baptist - Christian (Jun 24), Assumption Day - Christian (Aug 15), Victory Day / National Unity Day - Italy (Nov 4), All Saints' Day - Christian (Nov 1), Day after Christmas, St Stephen's Day, Boxing Day (Dec 26), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25), Easter - Christian, Easter Monday - Christian
Chiesa del Carmine
The Chiesa del Carmine in Érice is situated to the north near the Porta Carmine, next to the Palazzo Militari Palazzo Militari, the façade of which is distinguished by ornaments in the Plateresque style. Both buildings were erected in 1423 by the priest, Bernardo Militari.
If we follow the Via Rabata in Érice in a southwesterly direction, we pass the town wall, which dates from about 1,000 years B.C. and which was built by the Phoenicians and Elymians and later restored by the Carthaginians. The route leads us to the main church (Chiesa Matrice) and then immediately to the Porta Trapani, the southwestern entrance to the town.
The Chiesa Matrice, dedicated to the Assunta, the front of which is adorned by a beautiful rose window, is the most important building in Érice.Built in 1314 using stone taken from ancient buildings, the church was commissioned by Frederick of Aragon, who had already had the campanile erected in 1312 as a defensive tower.In 1426 a Gothic portico was added to the facade of the church. The interior was restored in the 19th century and its contents include a statue of the Mother of God of 1469, which is thought to be the work of Francesco Laurana, as well as an altarpiece made out of marble by Giuliano Mancino in 1533.
Map of Erice Attractions