Erice travel guide and tourism

Photo of Erice

Visit Erice (Sicily, Italy )

Erice is a sizable town found in north-west Sicily near Trapani where it has been an important regional centre for at least 2000 years.

Explore Erice

A visit to Erice can start with the cyclopean walls that surround the town. These ancient walls date back to the Elymians, but were later rearranged by the Phoenicians, Romans and even by the Normans. The walls incorporate towers and three gates.

Venus Castle

The castle of Erice, called Venus Castle, was built during the Norman domination in the place where there was already an ancient pagan temple dedicated to Venus. Inside the castle even today you can see a well where, according to legend, Venus bathed in milk.

The castle was always considered important for the military control of the territory, a role it retained until the 16th century. In the early 1800s, with the reform of the Kingdom of the two Sicilies the castle became the property of the municipality.

Mother Church of Erice

Another important sight in Erice is the gothic style Mother Church, of which construction probably began in 1312 for Frederick II of Aragon (1272-1337) using material from the ruins of the pagan temple of Venus.

Mother Church in old EriceAt the heart of the church a true treasure awaits the visitor: 70 precious works of silverware, jewellery, alabaster, ivory, painting, sculpture, coral and gold and silk embroidery, from the period between the 14th and 19th centuries.

Inside there are three naves separated by columns and some stucco decoration on the pillars. The first altar on the right has a 17th century painting of Saint Isidore by Orazio Ferraro da Giuliana (1622), to whom the peasants and workers of Erice were devotees. The statue in the third Chapel of the “Madonna Assunta” by Domenico Gagini (1420-1492) is also interesting.

Next to the church is the bell tower, also known as the Tower of King Frederick, 28 meters high and built at the end of the 13th century on the ruins of a previous watchtower.

There are several other important and interesting churches in Erice which also contain various important artworks:

Church of San Martino

The current Church of San Martino, built for Count Roger, dates back to 1339 but the original church here was probably built by the Normans in the 12th century. This small gothic style church was then demolished and rebuilt in the second half of the 17th century and the subject of further interventions during the 18th century and to the present.

The building is situated on a small square. In the baroque style, it presents a bust of “San Martino” and, to the sides, the “souls in Purgatory”. Entering the church you will be struck by the refinement of the renaissance decorations and the predominant use of white combined with elegant black lines.

The layout is a Latin cross form with three naves and the floor is from the 18th century. The Church presents several art works by the Manno brothers Antonino and Vincenzo (18th century) and Pietro D'Andrea, called the "Poma" (18th century). Their works are found on all the altars in the central part where “Jesus that free the souls from purgatory” by Vincenzo Manno is portrayed.

Church of San Giuliano

On the highest point of the Mount, the Church of San Giuliano was built in 1076 by Count Ruggero to thank the Saint for his intervention during a siege by the Muslims.

Church of San GiulianoThe church is characterised by its renaissance portal, the bell tower (accessible from the sacristy, added in 1770) and the roof pagoda  - the two parts form a pleasant ensemble with the dome of the Church.

Next to the the church is the 'Oratory of the 33', named for the number of members of the Congregation of Sacramento who wanted the edification of the Church in 1636.

Entering the church, on the right you can see the original baptismal font, placed on the octagonal stairs of Libyan marble and realised by Leonardo Crivaglia in 1718.

Next is a fresco of the 'Saints Jesuits and heart of Jesus, then looking towards the apse is the chapel of St. Giuliano, with a wooden statue by Pietro Orlando (17th century).

Lift your gaze to see a bas-relief stucco, a decoration designed by Pietro Dell'Orto (18th century). Pietro Dell’ Orto is also the artist of the plaster statue of Heart SS. of Jesus on the main altar. To the left is the chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary and statue in stucco (1605) by Orazio Ferraro.

Church of Saint John the Baptist

The Church of Saint John the Baptist is the widest in Erice. Although now mainly used for cultural events, it still contains some of the most valuable works of sacred art to be found in Erice. With a single nave, this church has a short transept with a majestic and high dome.

At the bottom of the apse there is a statue of Saint John the Baptist, dated 1539 and by Antonio Gagini from a family of sculptors who introduced the Renaissance style to Sicily. As we can see, the Lamb (that is, symbolically, Jesus) is placed on a closed book and only Jesus will open it to redeem the world. In the base are carved the "Martyrdom of the Saint", "Herodias that delivery to the skull of the Holy Mother" and "The baptism of Jesus".

Antonello Gagini also sculpted the "San Giovanni Evangelista", on the right of the transept, in 1531. On the altar to the left of the transept there are two marble statues which have been attributed to Gabriele di Battista (16th century), a Lombard sculptor who worked for some years in Palermo. Commissioned by the brotherhood of St. John, they have the theme "The visit of Mary to Elizabeth".

Arts and tradition in Erice

rooftops of EriceThe tradition of handicrafts is deep-rooted in Erice and includes the manufacture of iron, a job which between the 16th and 17th centuries constituted one of the most influential guilds in the town, and of which the consul was usually the eldest of the Cetino family.

That is why in the town some ancient artefacts of wrought iron can still be seen in the palaces, churches and monuments such as the gate which closes the chapel of the Church of San Giovanni Battista, a work of rare technical perfection by maestro Carlo Cetino (19th century).

Woodworking, ceramics and carpet making are also important traditions. The ancient carpets of Erice are characterized by intertwining of colourful cloth over a light background with the colours drawing shapes, Arabesque lines, and sinuous geometric designs.

Local cuisine

The traditional cuisine has always been passed through generations and communities in the area. Especially important historically were the large lunch rituals celebrated in honour of the goddess Ericina, involving not only the priestesses but also many pilgrims.

See also history of Erice.

See also:

Map of Erice sightseeing & popular sights

Address: Erice, Sicily, Italy || GPS: latitude 38.036944, longitude 12.586389

Selected places to visit near Erice, Italy

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