Mazara del Vallo, near Trapani, can sum up the character and history of a whole island: it proudly shows the world its beautiful old town, the old Casbah where Islamic philosophers and writers, judges and merchants used to walk
The Casbah, the old Arab quarter, is home to many houses in typical Arab style and it is crossed by an endless series of small tunnels. The neighborhood is inhabited by a large Tunisian community, which helps keeping intact the overall style of the neighborhood: some typical elements are the tiles and other decorative elements on the facades of houses.
Inside the Casbah, there are many restaurants and taverns that serve traditional meals, starting from fish couscous. The flavors and smells that flutter through the narrow streets of the Casbah are those of an old tradition that was never interrupted in Mazara del Vallo, one of the southern cities in Italy closest to Africa.
The cathedral’s city, the Basil Cathedral, was built by the Normans around the year One Thousand and features a unique style that is a mix of Romanesque, Baroque and Greek.
The town encompasses centuries of history: rows of palm trees and the port keep alternating to monuments of great value, architecture gifts and good examples of Sicilian Baroque. Within its walls, there are ancient churches, which were previously mosques and places of different worship.
It has a regal and majestic style with the portal that opens up to the sea and is topped by a sculptural representation of Santiago El Matamoros; such work represents St. James of Compostela riding a horse and equipped with sword while trampling on the Muslim horse’s hooves. There are also some beautiful Norman churches, such as those of Madonna delle Giummare, San Nicolò Regale and the Baroque Church of San Francesco.
The Basil Cathedral of the Santissimo Salvatore is in front of another symbol of the city, the Piazza della Repubblica, which is surrounded like a crown by the most important buildings. In addition to the Cathedral, there are the magnificent Palazzo del Seminario with inside the Diocesan Museum (with its two floors and the eleven arches that give the plaza its distinctive appearance); there are also the Town Hall and the Bishop’s Palace, connected to the western transept of the Cathedral thanks to the Tocchetto, a loggia on an arched bridge.
During the good season, the square is filled with tables and an atmosphere of celebration and fun. And the “good season” lasts almost all year long around here!
Between the Town Hall and Seminar, one of the many narrow streets of the old town opens up: via XX Settembre; the street ends on Piazza Plebiscito with the ruins of the Jesuit Church of St. Ignazio, founded in 1701. It is oval with eight pairs of Tuscan columns, six side altars and one greater in the center with a large dome and two bell towers; the church collapsed in December 1933. Adjacent to it, you will find the monumental structure of the Jesuit College, with its impressive Baroque prospectus and a round arch; on the sides there are two atlases supporting the entablature. Inside, you will find a courtyard surrounded by an arcade with round arches resting on Tuscan columns. Today it is home to the Library, Historic Archives and the Civic Museum.
You can’t miss the Church S. Vito.
Finally, just in front of the College, there is the Church of Sant’Egidio, which hosts a museum dedicated to one of the most important legacies of classical Greek art: the bronze statue of the Satiro Danzante. The statue was taken back the night between March 4 and 5, 1998, drawn from the fishing vessel “Capitan Ciccio” at a depth of 500 meters between Pantelleria and Capo Bon, in Tunisia.
The year before, in the same area, its leg was found. On July 12, 2003, the statue underwent a long restoration project at the Central Institute for Restoration of Rome; the statue is today exhibited in the Museum Satiro danzante. Inside the museum, there are also other finds from the Sicilian Channel (smaller bronzes, pottery, etc.).
Smaller but not less historic is Piazza Mokarta, famous for its Norman arch, the only ruin of the castle built by Ruggero II.
And now, intimacy on display in the De Santi-Lombardo house-museum
Emanuele, a former travel agent, and his wife Francesca, an architect, along with their daughter Tania have created an artistic site open all the time. Thanks to
their passion and their love for art they have transformed their house into a small museum of contemporary art.
The house is a museum constantly evolving, an artistic place always open. Its outside areas are dedicated to famous artists such as piazzetta Beethoven, Entrance Ludovico Corrao, square Prassitele, pagoda Pirandello, widening Allen Ginsberg, Socrate’s passage, pagoda Salvator Dalì. Rua Joan Mirò, Avenue Anton Gaudì, courtyard Pietro Consagra.
Every day its collection is enriched with sculptures, paintings, mosaics, ceramics, drawings, art objects and books.
Here architecture transforms into paintings or sculptures: everything is recycled and converted into an art object, a decorative element or a home feature. So every object becomes an installation, a sort of contamination which is sought and loved.
It is difficult to distinguish the works made by Francesca from those made by Tania or Emanuele. Very often the work is made together.
It is a place, a condition, where burning smell mingles with the scent of raku pottery, glass fusion, soldering iron, synthetic glaze and ink used for engraving. In every space of the museum you can feel the artists’ passion and love for each of their creatures.
Mazara is also one of the most important and well-known fishing ports in the Mediterranean base, consisting of a fleet of about 300 large deep sea trawlers and more than 3,000 boats. Much of the economy is based on fishing and it is attractive to those who seek for excellence of such product. Many harbor restaurants have great fish: first of all, the precious red shrimp of Mazara.
Mazara is also the city of hospitality, today internationally recognized as an example of integration, where foreigners (especially the large Tunisian community) are perfectly integrated. Is much more. It is sea, beach, surfing, diving and fishing. Let’s close this journey with the Riserva naturale integrale Lago Preola e Gorghi Tondi. There are several species of flora, such as wild orchids, daisies and anemones, and the population of the Sicilian ponds: turtles.