Trapani sits directly opposite the Egadi Islands providing them with regular comunication links with the main island. Beside the ferry traffic, the well-protected harbour handles large consignments of salt gathered in the saltpans just south of the town and tuna fish processed at the important local canning factory.
Trapani, the ancient Drepanum, extends along a curving tongue of land that ends in two horns – one occupied by the Torre di Ligny, the other by a lazaretto (a house for the reception all the diseased poor, especially lepers). According to legend, this was formed by the sickle that was dropped by the goddess of agriculture Demeter (Ceres) while she desperately sought her daughter Persephone, who had been carried off by Hades. The inner edge of the sickle (north), sheltered by the Tramontana reef, provides protected anchorages and moorings for fishing-boats. Each morning, on the shore opposite is held a picturesque fish market (pescheria). The most exciting time to visit Trapani is undoubtedly over Easter when the old town is thronged with multitudes of people participating in the processions and festivities held during Holy Week. These celebrations culminate in the Processione dei Misteri on Good Friday as 20 groups of sculpted figures are borne round and through the streets all day and the following night. At other times, the statues are kept in the Church of the Purgatorio (in the town centre, in Via San Francesco); made of wood, cloth and glue by local craftsmen, they date from between 1650 and 1720.
In Via Pepoli at the far eastern end of town (in the direction of Palermo) stands the large Carmelite institution known as the Annunziata. The actual church adjoins the former convent which now houses the town’s main museum, the Museo Pepoli.
Santuario dell’Annunziata – The church, although built in the early 14C, was transformed and enlarged in the course of the 18C. The original front elevation is ornamented with a Chiraramonte Gothic portal, surmounted by an elaborate rose-window above.
The Cappella dei Marinai (16C) along the left flank, comprises a lovely Renaissance tufa building surmounted by a dome. Inside, it is decorated with a fusion of styles drawn from eastern and Renaissance sources; recurring elements include the shell which appears in the side-niches, pendentives and apse.
The Cappella della Madonna extends like a lady chapel from behind the main altar of the church. Access is through a fine Renaissance arch designed by the Gagini (16C) with bronze gates dating from 1591. On the altar sits the delicate figure of the Madonna di Trapani (14C), attributed to Nino Pisano. Off the right side of the nave, near the door, lies the Cappella dei Pescatori (16C) enclosed with a frescoed octagonal dome.
Museo Pepoli – The ex-Carmelite convent beside the Santuario dell’Annunziata provides a magnificent setting for the museum and its fine collections of historic artefacts from prehistoric times to the 19C. The ground floor is devoted to sculpture. The Gagini family is well represented
with four graceful statues of saints: the most striking is probably the figure of St. James the Greater by Antonello Gagini.
A sumptuous polychrome marble staircase leads up to the first floor art gallery: the most notable paintings are the Trapani polyptych (15C), a Pietà by the Neapolitan Roberto di Oderisio (14C) and a lovely Madonna and Child with Angels by Pastura (1478-1509). Works from the Neapolitan School include a fine St. Bartholomew by Ribera.
The medium most favoured by the local artists and craftsmen is the Mediterranean red coral (pink coral comes from China). Examples displayed here include liturgical objects and various pieces of jewellery (look out for those made by Matteo Bavera, 17C). There is also a wonderful series of 16 small figurative groups carved of wood and dressed in cloth depicting The Slaughter of the Innocents (17C).
The local pottery is represented by a pair of fine maiolica panels depicting the Mattanza (the ritual killing of the tuna fish) and a view of Trapani (17C).
The medieval districts of the old part of town are situated on the headland pointing out to sea. The tip was developed by the Spanish in the 14C (Quartiere Palazzo) and remodelled in the Baroque style later. The oldest section built in true Moorish fashion around a tight network of interconnecting narrow streets, stretches back along the peninsula; this would originally have been enclosed by walls.
Palazzo Ciambra (della Giudecca) – This fine example of the plateresque style (16C) has heavy rustication to emphasize the doors and windows, as well as the front of the tower. Turn down Corso Italia.
Santa Maria del Gesù – This church with its fine Catalan doorway dates from the beginning of the 16C.
Biblioteca Fardelliana – The library displays a series of interesting topographical engravings from the Gatto collection including views of the Trapani area from the 17C-20C.
Sant’Agostlno – This church, built by the Knights Templar in the 14C, was badly damaged during the Second World War. The lovely rose-window and the Gothic doorway are original. The Fountain of Saturn in front of the church was built in 1342 to commemorate the building of an aqueduct.
Rua Nova – Now named Via Garibaldi, the “New Road” was laid in the 13C by the Aragonese. Today, it is lined with fine 18C palazzi and churches including the statue crested Palazzo Riccio di Morana, Palazzo Milo and Badia Nova (Santa Maria del Soccorso) the interior of which is decorated with Baroque polychrome marble and two elaborate galleries supported by angels. Palazzo Burgio opposite is graced with a fine 16C doorway.
Via Torrearsa is lined with elegant shops to the left and leads down to the Pescheria on the right. Beyond the intersection, Via Garibaldi continues as Via Libertà, past the splendid Palazzo Fardello di Mokarta (the inner courtyard is enclosed within a portico and a round arch loggia) and Palazzo Melilli with its 16C doorway.
Rua Grande – The second main thoroughfare inserted in the 13C (the modern Corso Vittorio Emanuele) stretches between elegant Baroque buildings such as the Palazzo Berardo Ferro (no. 86) and the Sede del Vescovado (Bishop’s Palace).
Cattedrale – The cathedral dedicated to St. Lawrence was erected in the 17C on the site of an earlier 14C building. The front elevation, put up a century later (1740), is a marvellous expression of the Baroque. Inside, it contains a number of paintings by Flemish artists: a Nativity (third chapel on the right), a Crucifixion and a Deposition (fourth chapel on the left).
Chiesa del Collegio – The 17C church has an imposing Mannerist façade ornamented with pilasters and female caryatid-figures.
Palazzo Senatorio (Cavaretta) – This lovely palazzo stands dramatically across the end of the street. Its elaborate façade rises through two orders of columns and statues up to a pair of large clocks. Alongside stands a 13C bell-tower.
Museo della Preistoria e di Archeologia Marina – The Torre di Ligny, built in 1671 as a defensive bastion on the tip of the “sickle” houses a collection of archeological artefacts; informative panels complete with illustrations outline the prehistoric era in Sicily. Most of the medieval objects are recovered from the many shipwrecks found nearby. Among the most interesting things on display are the Spanish amphorae.
From the terrace at the top of the tower extends a fine view over the town and across to the Egadi Islands.
Services to the Egadi lslands, Pantelleria, Sardinia and Tunisia – Trapani provides the ferry services to the Egadi Islands (see Isole EGAD1) with daily sailings to Pantelleria by Siremar -Agenzia Mare Viaggi 61/63 Via Staiti 0923-540515. For information on sailings to Tunisia, contact Tirrenia Navigazione, Agenzia Salva, 48/52 Corso Italia 0923-21896.
Local specialitles – One of Trapani’s most typical dishes is cuscus di pesce: a dish brought from North Africa, improved, so the Sicilians claim, by the addition of locally-caught fish. The endearing and atmospheric Taverna Paradiso restaurant at 22 Lungomare Dante Alighieri serves delicious local fare biased towards fresh fish.