Marsala (Exploring the city centre)
Marsala is a place that needs to be slowly savoured. From its baroque historic centre to its salt pans and the island of Mozia, discovering it with slow sips leaves a pleasant aftertaste of … wine. It is located in the westernmost point of Sicily, in the province of Trapani, and is famous in Italian history for the Landing of the Thousand. Its historical centre is small and intimate, and you can explore it on foot in a couple of hours. On 11 May 1860, Giuseppe Garibaldi and the Thousand passed through Porta Garibaldi. Together with Porta Nuova, they are the two historic gates still visible in the city.
From Piazza Matteotti to Porta Nuova, one “struscia” (“crawls”) along Via XI Maggio, called the Cassaro. Together with Via Garibaldi, it is one of Marsala’s main streets. The atmosphere is very suggestive, both in the morning and evening.
Along both sides of the street are souvenir shops, clothes shops, bars, bakeries and restaurants. You can enjoy shopping or stop to satisfy a sudden languor.
The elegant Piazza della Repubblica is the heart of the town. There stands the majestic Mother Church dedicated to St. Thomas of Canterbury. Its construction began in the Norman era, and the style of the Church is very recognisable, especially in the interior. The external façade is Baroque. Legend tells that a ship bound for England with a cargo of Corinthian columns had to land on the Sicilian coast because of a storm. That explains why the most important Church in the city is devoted to a Canterbury Saint.
Among the “minor” Churches is the Chiesa del Purgatorio, with its magnificent Baroque façade in two styles, and the Chiesa dell’Addolorata, whose construction is related to a miracle.
While strolling, majestic buildings such as Palazzo Burgio-Spanò catch the eye. And Palazzo Fici, one of the oldest and most prestigious buildings on Via XI Maggio, with its spectacular cobbled courtyard. The Palace is the symbol of “Marsala, City of Wine”, and it houses the Municipal Winery.
Behind the Mother Church, the small and interesting Museo degli Arazzi Fiamminghi houses a series of 16th-century tapestries depicting the gestures of Vespasian and his son Titus.
Near Porta Garibaldi, along the same name street, during the day is the fish market; in the evening, it becomes the centre of nightlife and entertainment, with several bars where you can drink and eat until late.
Leaving the old town from Porta Nuova, Villa Cavallotti is a strip of urban greenery that offers refreshment in summer. Its gardens end in a bastion. When you reach the seafront, where you can eat and relax in one of the many cafés, there is a magnificent view of the Egadi Islands. You can see the Monumento ai Mille (Monument to the Thousand), on which the names of the Thousand who landed at Marsala are written.
Continuing, you arrive at Capo Boeo, the extreme western tip of Sicily. There you will find the Museo Archeologico Regionale di Lilibeo Marsala – Baglio Anselmi. It is a former wine-making establishment, and part of the Archeological Park of Lilibeo, one of the three Archaeological Parks of Trapani. It houses the wreck of a Punic ship and here you can learn about the history of Lilybaeum (ancient Marsala).
But when talking about Marsala, one immediately thinks of the world-famous fortified wine DOP, one of Sicily’s most renowned wines. Its intense aroma with hints of vanilla, burnt honey and roasted hazelnuts goes well with delicacies such as cassateddi with dried figs and mustazzoli in vino cotto. Any advice on what to order at the restaurant? Don’t miss the couscous, the pasta with sardines (pasta c’anciova), the busiate pasta with tuna sauce: the fish here is extremely fresh!