Salemi, perched on a hill in the Belice Valley amidst the changing green of vineyards and olive groves, clusters around the Norman-Swabian Castle. The village, with its medieval feel, is located in the centre of the province of Trapani and is delightful with its polished streets of light-coloured stone, like the good living room of the house. The Most Beautiful Villages in Italy.
The ancient Halyciae, as the town was called, has experienced all the historical events of the oldest settlements in Sicily. From the Elymians onwards, it was inhabited by Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Goths and Byzantines, peoples so ancient as to be legendary, but it owes its current name to the Arabs, from the word Salam, which means peace.
The Arabs brought spices such as saffron, cloves and cinnamon, which were added to the lemons, oranges and peaches and the rich wild vegetation of the Mediterranean maquis, such as thyme and oregano. Hence the heady colours and scents that have made the land of Sicily so great and varied.
Salemi’s history can be retraced along the narrow streets of the Jewish quarter of Giudecca, the Islamic quarter of Rabato, through a visit to the Norman-Swabian Castle and the Madrice Vecchia (“Old Mother Church”), of which only a few vestiges remain. However, a visit to the Museum of Sacred Art in the former Jesuit College is not to be missed. Its wonderful rooms house a perfect and delightful reproduction of the House of Loreto, with frescoed vaults and statuary by Laurana and Gagini. The Museo del Risorgimento and the poignant Museo della Mafia are also worth a visit.
So much history has not passed in vain, leaving well-preserved and usable evidence in the archaeological areas of Mokarta, Monte Polizo and San Miceli, and in the Antica Fornace Sant’Angelo.
This fascinating heritage is now enhanced within the Salemi museum system, which encompasses all the town’s artistic, cultural and natural resources as if they were part of a single museum, as part of the broader and more ambitious Belice Museum Network project involving the entire Belice region.
Salemi still preserves the ancient tradition of devotional bread. During the religious festivals of Saint Joseph on 19 March, Saint Anthony the Abbot on 17 January and Saint Blaise on 3 February, extraordinary loaves of bread, veritable baroque architectures, are baked.
The confectioners and bakers of Salemi, as well as grandmothers, have the task of continuing the tradition and reintroducing the heady aromas of festive cuisine with the preparation of cudderedde and cavadduzzi (St Joseph’s and St Blaise’s breads).
But in these parts, the apotheosis of the Mediterranean diet is the busiata, a type of handmade pasta that is wrapped around a spindle (hence the name), to be enjoyed with various sauces.
Just a kite’s flight away from here, there are wonderful and evocative places such as Segesta and Selinunte, the island of Mothia, the Stagnone Nature Reserve, Marsala, Scopello, San Vito Lo Capo and Erice.