advertisement

Start off from the centro storico ★, the medieval core lying on the "sickle" into the sea. The oldest part of Trapani has a typical North African style and feel, creating a tightly wound labyrinth of narrow streets. As was typical of Saracen fortification, these streets lay behind defensive walls that guarded against unexpected invaders.

The most intriguing street is Via Garibaldi (also known as Rua Nova, or "New Road"), which is flanked with churches and palaces. The Aragonese laid out this street in the 18th century. The best shops in the old town line Via Torrearsa, which leads down to a bustling pescheria (fish market) where tuna -- caught in nearby waters -- is king. The spacious central square, Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, laid out in 1869 and planted with palm trees, is a relaxing oasis.

The pedestrianized main street of Trapani is Corso Vittorio Emanuele, sometimes called Rua Grande by the locals. Many elegant baroque buildings are found along this street, which makes for a grand promenade. At the eastern end of the street rises the Palazzo Senatorio, the 17th-century town hall, done up in pinkish marble.

Along the way, you can visit the Cattedrale (tel. 0923-432111), open daily from 8am to 4pm. Built on the site of an earlier structure from the 14th century, the cathedral is dedicated to San Lorenzo (St. Lawrence) and has a 1743 facade. Artworks inside include a Crucifixion, by Giacomo Lo Verde, a local artist, on the building's south side, fourth altar.

Another major church is Chiesa Santa Maria del Gesù, on Via San Pietro, with a facade that incorporates both Gothic and Renaissance features, dating from the first half of the 16th century. Its major work of art is a beautiful Madonna degli Angeli (Madonna with Angels), a glazed terra-cotta statue by Andrea della Robbia. Regrettably, the church is often closed.

Also worthy but perpetually closed is Chiesa di Sant'Agostino, Piazzetta Saturno, adjacent to the tourist office. This church is known for its exquisite rose window from the 14th century, and even more so for occasional concerts staged here. Ask at the tourist office for details.

Another church in the heart of the old town, Chiesa del Purgatorio, is in the 17th-century baroque style. In theory, it's open daily 8:30am to 12:30pm and from 4 to 8pm. It's across from Stazione Marittima, one block up from Piazza Garibaldi. The entire atmosphere of this church remains medieval, with intoxicating incense and otherworldly music. It houses the single greatest treasure in Trapani, however: The Misteri, 20 life-size wooden figures from the 18th century depicting Christ's Passion, and carried out every year during the Good Friday procession.

At the edge of town that extends out to the sea is the Torre di Ligny, built in 1671 as a defensive fortress on the northern tip of Trapan's "hook." It is the supposed home of the Museo Preistorico, but it is regrettably closed to the public. From this outpost you can see the Isola Colombaia and the decaying Castello della Colombaia, built during the Punic times as a fortification and enhanced by the Aragonese.

Villa Margherita lies between old and new Trapani. These public gardens offer a welcome respite from a day of tramping the cobblestone streets. Fountains, banyan trees, and palms rustling in the wind make for an inviting oasis. Luglio Musicale Trapanese a festival of opera, ballet, and cabaret, is staged here in July.

Modern Trapani has two sights worth a visit. Santuario dell'Annunziata is a 14th-century convent whose cloisters enclose the major museum of Trapani . The 14th-century church was forever altered in the 18th century by new decorators, although its Gothic portal remains, surmounted by a beautiful rose window. The chapels are a treasure and include two dedicated to the fishermen of Trapani who risk their lives daily to harvest the sea. The major chapel to seek out is the Cappella della Madonna, with its sacred Virgin and Bambino, attributed to Nino Pisano in the 14th century. The bronze gates to the chapel are from 1591. On its left flank is Cappella dei Marinai, a tufa-made chapel crowned by a dome and built in the Renaissance style.

Adjacent to the church is Trapani's major museum: Museo Regionale Pepoli, Via Conte Agostino Pepoli 200 (tel. 0923-553269), open Monday to Saturday 9am to 1pm and Sunday 9am to 12:30pm. Admission is 4€, 2€ for children 12 and under. The former Carmelite convent has been converted into a showcase of regional art that emphasizes archaeological artifacts but also has a worthy collection of statues and coral carvings. The artistic Gagini family is better represented here than any other artist. Especially striking is San Giacomo il Grande by Antonello Gagini. The folk-art figurines are noteworthy, including a brutal depiction of the biblical legend of Herod's search for the Christ Child. Other works of art include a moving 14th-century Pietà, by Roberto di Oderisio, and some impressive triptychs by anonymous artists.

The Salt Marshes -- Stretching from Trapani to Marsala along route SP21, the salt pans along the coast have been in use since antiquity, and the windmills used to harvest it are centuries old. Used as a preservative for perishable food and as monetary compensation for mercenaries during the Roman times (the word "salary" derives from the Latin salaries meaning "soldier's allowance for the purchase of salt") it reached its pinnacle in the 19th century, when this salt was exported as far as Scandinavia. Today, it is still sought after by many gourmet chefs. When the Carthaginians first landed in the area they immediately understood the favorable natural and meteorological conditions offered, and set about to create basins from which to harvest salt. Exploiting the high level of salinity in the seawater and the wind and sun that contribute to the evaporation process, water is pumped in mid to late winter into the pans through a canal driven by an Archimedes screw. Over the next few months the water is left to evaporate, when it assumes a reddish color dense with mineral pigment. Around July, just as it reaches a sluggish consistency, the salt is raked and harvested, and brought on to terra firma to complete the exsiccation process. What look like little salt huts line the road, covered in terra-cotta tiles to protect them from the elements. Once completely dry, the salt is cleansed of debris and ready for packaging. The salt today is still being extracted, albeit not with the same urgency as in the past; nonetheless its history and technique has been preserved, and a fascinating insight into how the process is still carried out, is visible at Paceco, 5km (3 miles) south of Trapani. The area has now been designated a World Wildlife Fund reserve, the Riserva Naturale Orientata "Saline di Trapani e Paceco" (tel. 0923-867700; www.wwfsalineditrapani.it), covering 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres). At the Museo del Sale (Salt Museum), at Nubia (tel. 0923-867442; www.trattoriadelsale.com) guided tours are offered in what used to be an old salt worker's house dating back to the 1700s, where tools and artifacts used during the course of history to harvest salt are on display. Doubling as a restaurant, you'll also have the chance to sample local cuisine, which consists of home-style cooking and the catch of the day. If possible, visit in the afternoon, when you'll witness sunsets against a terse evening sky that changes color as the sun goes down and as the migrating birds perform their spectacular in-flight choreographies.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.