Mazara del Vallo Tourist Attractions
LocationThe old port of Mazara del Vallo, situated at the mouth of the River Mazaro on the southern section of Sicily's west coast, is a bishopric and important agricultural and fishing town.
HistoryIn ancient times Mazara is most likely to have been originally a Phoenician settlement, but after the founding of the town of Selinunte it became a port for the latter. At the same time the River Mazaro formed the border against the Phoenicians of Motya and the Elymians of Segesta and was therefore frequently disputed. In 409 B.C. Hannibal seized Mazara at the beginning of his expedition against the Greek towns of southern Sicily. Further destruction was brought about by the Romans during the first Punic War (264-241 B.C.). In the ensuing period Mazara was no more than an unimportant harbor settlement.In 827 the conquest of Sicily was begun here by the Arabs, who made Mazara capital of one of their three Sicilian provinces, Val di Mazara, which covered western Sicily (the others being Val di Noto in the southeast and Val Démone in the northeast). In 1072 they were driven out by the Normans. Roger of Hauteville established his provisional government here, made the town a bishopric and convened the first parliament of noblemen at Mazara.
Since ancient times the harbor with the Molo C. Caito has been the economic center of the town. It developed in the narrow estuarial bay of the River Mazaro and today is called Porto di Canale. Around it centers the daily life of the fishermen and sailors; the fish market is held here and the shipping companies have their offices.To the south is the spacious basin of the new harbor. From here ships depart for Pantelleria and Porto Empédocle.
San Nicolò Regale
The small Norman church of San Nicolò Regale stands on a slight elevation on the east side of the Porto di Canale in Mazara del Vallo. It is a distinctive rectangular building dating from the 11th or 12th centuries (there is some controversy concerning this), and its ground-plan, like that of Trinità dei Delia at Castelvetrano, follows the model for Byzantine churches. Its exterior walls show three false arches, in three sections, surrounding the windows.In the chancel the three apses protrude. The upper border is formed by a ring of merlons.The interior, which had fallen into disrepair, as a result of no longer being used for religious services, has now been restored by the architect Franco Minissi, including the dome with its four supporting columns with ancient capitals.The convent belonging to the church was, however, torn down at the end of the 19th century, and a small square laid in its place.
Palazzo dei Cavalieri di Malta
If we follow the coastline from the new harbor in a southeasterly direction, we come to the mouth of the River Mazaro. This is the site of the former Palace of the Maltese Knights, dating from the 16th/17th century, with its wide front and opulent entrance portal. There was once a museum here, but now part of the palace is used as offices by the Municipio (town hall).
Just past the war memorial on the right, some steps lead to the triangular Piazza Plebiscito. The municipal museum, in the buildings of a former 17th century Jesuit college, is situated here. Local finds from the ancient Roman period can be seen here (inscriptions in Latin and Greek, coins, tools, weapons), as well as a collection of paintings.
The adjoining church of Sant'Ignazio, with its oval ground-plan on a diagonal axis, was built in 1701-14 on the site of a former building.
Piazza della Repubblica
Just past Sant'Ignazio in Mazara del Vallo a narrow street leads off on the right to the Piazza della Repubblica. This large rectangular square is dominated by the fountain of San Vito (Ignazio Marabitti, 1771). The square is surrounded by several buildings from the Baroque period: the bishop's palace (1596; altered in the 18th century), the ecclesiastical seminary building (Seminario) with its two-storyed arched hall (1710) and the cathedral of Santissimo Salvatore.
Santissimo Salvatore Mazara del Vallo is a three-aisled cross-shaped columned basilica on a Norman foundation. Built in 1086, shortly after the conquest of the town by Roger I, it was restored in the Baroque style from 1696 onwards, using the original ground-plan, and in 1906 it was given a new façade. Remains of the original exterior can be seen in the east apse. The west part of the building and the crossing dome, which dates from the later restoration, dominate the square.The clear proportions and exceptionally fine paintwork of the whole interior are impressive. The chancel is dominated by a sculptured group depicting the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor, a work by either Antonello Gagini or his son Antonino (1537). The Catholic church did not acknowledge the festival of the transfiguration until 1457, whereas in Byzantine art it had always been a frequently occurring motif. W. Krånig explains its occurrence in Mazara by the fact that the Greek church dignitary, Bessarion, who had fled from Byzantium to evade the Turks, although also residing in Rome, was Bishop of Mazara from 1449 to 1458 and presented the transfiguration icon to the cathedral.In the northwest corner of the cathedral stands a sarcophagus similar to that of Frederick II in Palermo, although, like another sarcophagus of this shape in the church of Santissimo Salvatore in Naro, it is not in the imperial purple (porphyry) color, but in green marble.In the apse chapel in the north transept there is a 3.15m/10ft high painted wooden crucifix which was made soon after 1200 and is probably the oldest of many painted crucifixes to be found in Sicily.
If we leave the cathedral in Mazara del Vallo and turn left along its west facade, we find ourselves on the edge of the park of Villa Garibaldi, which runs parallel to the shore road. At its southeast end, where it joins with the Piazza Castle Mokarta, stands the ruin of a Norman castle; an inscription recalls the fact that Count Roger built the Castle of Mazara in 1072, at the same time as the one at Paternò in eastern Sicily.
From the Piazza Mokarta in Mazara del Vallo the Via Giuseppe leads on again to the Piazza Plebiscito, past the east apse of the cathedral. Close by to the right is the Piazza Santa Caterina with the church of the same name (inside a statue of Catherine by Antonello Gagini, 1524).
North of San Michele rises the distinctive tower of the convent church of San Michele, built in the 17th/18th century.
The Via di San Michele in Mazara del Vallo opens out into a square, on which stands the Benedictine church of Santa Veneranda. It is an attractive, circular domed building with its cross-shape formed by four short arms (probably dating from after 1651), to which an imposing diagonally positioned twin-towered facade was added around 1750.
2km/1mi outside Mazara del Vallo (in a southerly direction) there is a beautiful sandy beach.
Map of Mazara del Vallo Attractions