Virtual travel to Trapani, Sicily - Italy
The elongated scythe like form of Trapani, as it curves elegantly into the sea, inspired early settlers: the Elymians, of Phoenician extraction, named the city Drepanon, which translated means "sickle". Legend tells that Demeter, goddess of harvests and of plenty, whilst seeking her lost and beloved daughter dropped her sickle in a moment of despair, and as it fell to earth and landed by the sea, Trapani grew in its place, retaining the form of the Goddess' scythe.
Myths aside, Trapani is the perfect port, and fishing village, being set on a low peninsula stretching in an arc into the sea, the housing of the city melting into plains of salt pans, valuable to the regions economy. Beyond, the solitary plains dotted with windmills dating from the medieval era, lies the open sea stretching to the horizon, punctuated only by the beautiful peak of mount Erice and the Egadi Islands.
Apart from its ancient trade in tuna, fishing, and salt, Trapani also deals in olives and wine, and in recent years has begun to flourish. At present, the province of Trapani produces more wine than Austria, Chile, Hungary, or the region of Tuscany.
Trapani is the most strategic spot in the west of Sicily as it is the only major port. Thus for the various invaders mindful of its fertile potential and geographic position, it has been considered a small but worthy prize. After the epoch of the Greeks in which Trapani was a minor colony, it became a trading centre for the Phoenicians before becoming a pivotal hinge in the Carthaginian empire. The Romans, quick as ever to spot a valuable site, then defeated the Carthaginians in the battle of the Egadi Islands and took the town, using it as a minor trading post.
After the invasion and disappearance of the Vandals, the town revived a little during Byzantine rule, until 830 A.D. when for the first time the town began to come into its own under the Muslims who virtually reconstructed the town, enclosing it with walls on all sides, and giving it a unique street plan peculiar to the Arabs, to be found in several Sicilian cities. The Arabs also increased the town's prosperity with the growth in production of salt, tuna and coral as well as introducing an irrigation system thus increasing the town's food productivity.
The Normans continued to develop the town's potential, awarding it with the title "Royal City". Thus this picturesque little town of position par excellence, grew in prosperity throughout the Arab and Norman period.
During the Spanish era of dominion, the town's coral production and decoration grew along with the extraction and export of marble. As a port, the town had always enjoyed the benefit of customs ensuring a constant for the town's prosperity. Charles V restructured Trapani's walls adding a deep ditch and channel around the city to protect it from attack.
At the end of the eighteenth century it was pulled down and the walls lengthened to the base of Mount Erice. From this time on, the town expanded indiscriminately and without planning, and sadly continues to do so.
Extending for miles from the city centre, along the coast to Marsala, interspersed with seventeenth century windmills standing like lone sentries along the coast, is an irregular strip of white hillocks undulating mounds and valleys.
Trapani is the home of an ancient and unique trade in salt, and has a museum celebrating this tradition. The Phoenicians began production of this precious mineral, which had been continued if somewhat modified to this day. Apart from its haunting atmosphere and picturesque value, the area is home to approximately 170 species of birds, including herons flamingos, storks and cranes and as such is protected by the World Wildlife Fund.
Trapani's resources in ancient beauties testifies to the passage of countless Corsican traditions and generations over the centuries. A limited list would include the Cathedral, dedicated to Saint Lawrence, built in the Thirteenth Century and later resurrected in the characteristic Sicilian Baroque style.
The Sanctuary of the Annunciation, is the largest church built in the Thirteen Hundreds, which combines the Gothic form with a massive Baroque bell tower, the interior holds the chapel for fishermen and sailors (pertinent to the city as throughout the centuries fishing has been a staple for the city economically and as a profession). The Palazzo della Giudecca in the Jewish Ghetto, built in 1500, in "Catalan style" with a tower, and beautifully decorated windows, is one of the most important symbols of Jewish residence in Sicily.
As part of the religious culture of the city, Good Friday has a famous event in which twenty wooden statues depicting Christ's passion and death are paraded through the streets in solemnity in a fusion of folklore and faith, practised since the 1700's. Trapani then, with its traditions, history, beauty and unique characteristics represents an important aspect of the west coast of Sicily, and combined with the wonderful weather and the town's store of natural beauty promises a fascinating and pleasurable stay.