Marsala Tourist Attractions
CommunicationsSS 115 Agrigento-Trapani; railroad station. Ship connections (hydrofoils) to Trapani and Pantelleria. Airport Trapani-Birgi (15km/9mi), connections with Rome and Pantelleria.
Cultural eventsHoly Week processions.ImportanceThis lively town on the west coast owes its foundation to the Carthaginians, its name to the Arabs, its reputation for patriotism to Garibaldi.HistoryThe west point of Sicily at Capo Boeo, only 140km/87mi from Libya, has always been a navigational point of reference for sailors. This is where, after losing their operational base at Motya in 397 B.C., the Carthaginians founded the town of Lilybaion and turned it into a powerful marine fortress. This withstood attacks by the Greeks (Dionysios I 368 B.C., Pyrrhos 277/276 B.C.) and the Romans, but fell to Rome by the terms of the peace agreement after the First Punic War in 241 B.C.In Roman times Lilybaeum was one of the richest towns in Sicily, with the result that Verres was able to make off with large numbers of works of art from the town between 73-71 B.C.Christianity must have gained a footing from the third century. The first bishop is said to have been Pascasinus, who was carried off to North Africa with some of the inhabitants by the Vandal king Geiserich in 440 and after his return took part in the Council of Chalcedon in 451 at the behest of Pope Leo the Great. When the Arabs landed in nearby Mazara in 827, they gave the town the name of Mars-al-Allah (harbor of God), from which the town's present-day name derives. The Normans also took an interest in the town, which was fortified under Roger I. In 1541, however, Emperor Charles V had the harbor filled in during his unsuccessful campaign against the Algerian corsairs, in order that the pirates should not be able to gain a footing there. As a result of this Marsala lost its position of importance to Trapani.The town did not experience a revival in its fortunes until 1773. Woodhouse, who had originally come to Sicily to trade in fertilizers, was quick to see the new opportunity which presented itself; "he brought not only capital and the spirit of enterprise to Sicily, but also a vision of the demand and sales possibilities for his product abroad. Within a few years he had amassed a substantial fortune. Soon after 1806 another Briton, Benjamin Ingham, opened a similar factory nearby and by 1814 there were four British firms in Marsala alone, and several more in Mazara ... At their own expense they now had access roads built and finally the harbor in Marsala, which had once been so famous, was restored and opened for merchant shipping again. It was not long before the town had trebled in size - it was appropriate that the patron saint of the town should be an Englishman, Saint Thomas Becket of Canterbury!" (Finley/Mack, Smith/Duggan, History of Sicily and the Sicilians).On 11th May 1860 Giuseppe Garibaldi landed in the recently restored harbor and, with his thousand poorly equipped, yet highly motivated volunteers, embarked on his famous triumphal march against the Bourbon troops.On the same day, 83 years later, on 11th May 1943, Allied air attacks inflicted terrible damage on the town, the traces of which still have not been entirely removed. One example is the ruined church at the southeast end of the Piazza Marconi.Latterly the town has emphasized its cultural pretensions by staging an annual music competition which attracts international participation.
Piazza della Repubblica
The center of Marsala is the Piazza della Repubblica on the long road axis which cuts through the town from northwest to southeast (Via Vittorio Veneto - Via XI Maggio - Via Calatafimi). On one of the narrow sides of the square stands the Palazzo VII Aprile, built in the 16th century with a light round-arched loggia and a dominating central tower.
Chiesa del Purgatorio
Leaving the tapestry museum in Marsala we come to a small square with the high Baroque facade of the Chiesa del Purgatorio (1701), which today is used as the Saint Cecilia auditorium.
From the Piazza della Repubblica in Marsala the Via Garibaldi leads in a southwesterly direction, first taking us to the Municipio (in a Spanish Palazzo Porta Garibaldi dating from 1576) and then on to the Porta Garibaldi (previously the Porta di Mare), which was built in the 17th century in the form of a Roman triumphal arch. Directly next to it stands the Baroque church of Sant'Addolorata.
Leaving the Piazza della Repubblica in a northwesterly direction - Via XI Maggio - we pass the convent church of San Pietro (1569) with its massive rectangular tower, whose helm roof is covered with majolica (it has been restored). A little further north on the other side of the street stands the former Jesuit college, the church of which at the present time has on display works by contemporary artists which will, however, eventually be moved to the Lilibaeian Museum.
At the end of the street is the Porta Nuova, which was erected in 1789 and in front of which lies the Piazza Vittoria. To the north is the narrow rectangular park of the Villa Cavalotti, with remains of a Spanish bastion alongside it.
Below the belvedere and along the Viale Vittorio Veneto, which continues the line of Via XI Maggio, are remains of the ancient Lilybaeum, including fragments of the town walls. Off the road to the right are the ruins of the Insula Romana, living quarters of the A.D. third century, with a fine animal mosaic in the associated baths. From the end of the avenue there is a beautiful view of the sea and the coast; and from Capo Boeo or Capo Lilibeo, a little way southwest, there are more extensive views northeast over the old harbor to Monte Erice and northwest of the Isole Eàgadi.
Museo Nazionale Lilibeo
The Lilibaeian National Museum in Marsala lies on the shore road directly by the Capo Boeo. It is housed in the former Baglio Anselmi. By the name Baglio reference was originally made to the feudal seats of the nobili of Marsala; of these about 70 in the region have been preserved. The Archeological Museum was opened in 1985 and consists of two large halls fitted out according to modern theories on museological instruction. In the left-hand hall finds are on display from Marsala (Lilybaeum), Mozia and the surrounding area. The exhibits are arranged chronologically clockwise around the hall; they range from prehistory to the Norman period and include Punic burial monuments, Apulian-Sikelotic ceramics and Roman architectural remains which consist of limestone fragments covered in white stucco, while in the middle of the room there is a mosaic floor and a large model of Roman Lilybaeum.The right-hand hall is dominated by a 35m/115ft long Punic ship dating from the third century B.C., which was found in the sea at Mäzia and has been reconstructed. It is housed in a specially climatised tent. Around it reconstruction sketches, photos of the finds being discovered, as well as the find themselves, provide informative adjuncts to the main display. In addition further underwater finds are due to join the existing exhibits.The contemporary art collection at present housed in the church of the former Jesuit college is also due to transfer to this building. At the present time, however, no date has been fixed.
To the south of the museum in Marsala in open country stands the church of San Giovanni. This simple building with a doorway dating from 1555 replaced a fifth century early Christian church from which came the present font. According to local tradition, this belonged to the ancient oracular shrine of the Sibyl of Lilybaeum; this prophetess was apparently, in contrast to other divinely gifted seers, such as the Erythraeian one or the prophetess from Cumae, of only local significance.
On Capo Boeo in Marsala stands a single Roman column, the inscription of which recalls both Scipio Africanus, who set out from here on his devastating attack against Carthage, and Garibaldi's landing on 11th May 1860.
Mention should be made of the fountain of Salvatore Fiume (1982), which recalls the importance Marsala's more recent development. It is to be found on the Piazza Francesco Pizzo, to the south of the station, at the junction of Via Mazzini and Via Crispi.
LocationThis little town in western Sicily, 38km/23.5mi east of Marsala, suffered very badly in the 1968 earthquake. It lies on what was probably the site of the Elymian town of Halyciae. In the Middle Ages Roger I erected a castle which was extended by Frederick II. More recently it became known through Garibaldi, who declared himself dictator of Sicily here on 14th May 1860, three days after landing in Marsala.
The castle in Salemi displays three impressive towers and inside has rooms with Gothic vaulted ceilings. It now houses the Museo del Risorgimento, with memorabilia of Garibaldi's time.
The church of San Michele Arcangelo in Salemi is a fourth-fifth century Early Christian basilica with Byzantine mosaics and Greek inscriptions. It has a font dating from 1464 as well as a marble statue of Francesco Laurana.
Map of Marsala Attractions