The small town of Salemi enjoys a lovely position surrounded by the vineyards that are so typical a feature of the Trapani region. The older parts of Salemi bear the indelible imprint of Arab influences, its narrow cobbled streets wind their way to the top of the hill crowned with the inevitable castle. Salemi was inadvertently blessed with a moment of unexpected glory when, after Garibaldi landed in Sicily, it was declared the first capital of Italy. In 1968, the town was badly damaged by an earthquake.
Castello Normanno – The Norman castle was erected at the wishes of Roger d’Altavilla on the foundations of a fortress; the castle has two square towers and one high round one. On its right stand the remains of the Chiesa Madre, destroyed as a result of the earthquake of 1968. Turn down Via D’Aguirre and along past the church.
Chiesa e Collegio del Gesuiti – The rather elegant façade of the church is Baroque, complete with portal flanked with spiral columns of tufa. The Collegio, meanwhile, accommodates the Museo Civico of which contains various religious works of art rescued from the churches destroyed in the earthquake in 1968: a particular highlight is the lovely Madonna della Candelora (Candlemas) by Domenico Gagini.
Beyond the last room of the museum sits an 18C chapel that replicates the Casa Santa of Loreto.
Further downhill, lies the picturesque Rabato quarter complete with all its Moorish flavour. The outside streets provide wonderful views of the valley. Here, on 3 February each year, they distribute tiny, very elaborate and strangely-shaped loaves of bread for the feast day of San Biagio.
Bread also plays its part in the celebrations of St. Josephs day (19 March), when special large votive loaves are baked in the shape of angels, garlands, flowers, animals and work-tools so as to represent every aspect of daily life.
Calatafimi – 13km north. This little town is well defended in spirit by its Castello Eufemio, a Byzantine fortress that was rebuilt in the 13C and now lies in ruins. From here, a fine view stretches over the valley and town. Every five years, during the first three days of May, the Festival of the Holy Crucifix (Festa del Santissimo Crocefisso) is held: an important procession takes place through the streets with representations from all the various town “corporations”: the Massari delegation may be distinguished by its float decorated with bread.
On the hill opposite stands the Pianto Romano, a monument commemorating the followers of Garibaldi who died in action (Calatafimi was the scene of an important battle). From there, a marvellous view extends back over the Calatafimi, the surrounding hills, and the sea beyond.