Mazara-del-Vallo travel guide and tourism
Visit Mazara-del-Vallo (Sicily, Italy )
The town of Mazara del Vallo has been very important throughout the history of Sicily - it began life as an important supply centre for Selinunte, and since antiquity it has been a safe port for boats. Given its strategic geographical position it was conquered many times by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Normans and Swabians, each of whom left an indelible mark on its territory.
It is now a pleasant place to visit both for the seafront and for the old town which contains several sites of historic interest, an of course for its proximity to a good number of beaches, both sandy and rocky. The beaches offer a wide range of activities and the seafront area is ideal for your evening promenade!
Mazara del Vallo, its Cathedral and the “Dancing Satyr”
Leaving the beaches behind for a while, most visits to Mazara will start with a stroll around the harbour, followed by an exploration of the attractive streets, winding alleys and courtyards of the old town. The town still has a traditional Arab town plan with an old town divided into several districts (e.g. the "Casbah" and "Bath") that were once within the protection of the ancient city walls as built by Roger II (these walls lasted until the 19th century).
With the advent of the Normans, the city was further enriched by churches and monasteries. Of the ancient castle dating from 1097 there are now only a few ruins, such as a door with two pointed arches, a typical example of the so-called ogival style that characterized Sicilian architecture in the Norman period.
The municipal coat of arms of Mazara still features the walls and castle built by King Roger II.
Mazara cathedral and sarcophagi
Only a few traces remain of the original Norman Cathedral of Mazara del Vallo, dedicated to the "Holy Saviour” and built towards the end of the 11th century, because in the late 17th century it was completely rebuilt in a different style.
The main cathedral entrance is between two marble columns and is artistically decorated with a marble relief depicting three knights and an Arab warrior. The interior has three naves, divided by columns with arches in the Baroque style.
The cathedral contains several important monuments including the famous sarcophagi (notes below), the fresco with the Christ "Pantocrator" dating back to 1200 on the east wall of the transept, a painted cross and a few works performed by the most prestigious members of the Gagini family.
Domenico Gagini (1420-1492), for example, was the author of the Sarcophagus of Bishop Montaperto, now in the Diocesan Museum, and the same sculptor also created the so-called "Madonna del Soccorso" in the chapel of the cathedral.
The "Transfiguration" was created by Antonello Gagini (1478-1536) and his son Antonino (1504-1530 approx.) while Antonello Gagini created the altar canopy with Saints John the Baptist and Benedict in the first half of the 16th century.
Another notable example of a 16th century sculpture is the portal of Bartolomeo Berrettaro (16th century) with eight Stories of San Egidio on the pillars, surmounted by a lunette with a “Madonna and Child” and the two statues of saints.
On the main altar there is a silver frontal, a work by artists from Trapani and above the tabernacle are reliefs depicting the "Dove of the Holy Spirit" flanked by two angels. Decorations by the Ferraro da Giuliana family (active between 1574 and 1580) include two panels that depict the Nativity and the Birth of the Baptist.
Sarcophagi in Mazara
The sarcophagi in Mazara del Vallo cathedral are particularly worthy of mention. They were found some years ago and are works of great historical and artistic interest:
- The first is an "Amazonomachy", that is a battle between Greeks and Amazons that probably took place under the walls of Troy. The work consists of various vividly dramatic and frantic scenes, with warriors, amazons and horses. The work is probably from the 2nd century AD, and a copy of a Hellenistic original.
- A second sarcophagus depicts the abduction of Kore and the breathless quest by Great Mother Demetra; it seems to go back to the early third century AD.
- The third sarchophagus is called the "Sarcofago di Canzio Marciano" and represents a scene of wild boar hunting. According to critics the static nature of the figures tells us the work was performed by minor artists, perhaps in the 4th century AD. The Greek inscription refers to the name of the deceased, “Marchionòs” (Marciano), a rather common name in the early days of Christianity.
A new sarchophagus
In 1999 a new sarchophagus was discovered in the Cappella dell’Incoronata in Mazara del Vallo, which was described by Professor C.A. di Stefano:
"[...] The main side of the sarcophagus presents the myth of Endymion. The young shepherd is pictured to the extreme right, while sleeping sitting on a rocky terrain and reclining his head. Hypnos, the god of Sleep, watches over him [...] The Sleep of Endymion is a legend in which he had to sleep forever without ever waking up or grow old - it is an image of death but it is also a sleep, aided by the loving presence of divinity, which represents the sweetest of the rests after the tribulations of life[...]"
(See C.A. Di Stefano, “Un nuovo sarcofago Romano da Mazara del Vallo”, in “Quarte giornate internazionali di studi sull'area elima” ["A new Roman sarcophagus from ‘Mazara del Vallo’"], Proceedings, I, Pisa, 2003: 411-421).
Other Mazara-del-Vallo churches
The Church of San Nicolò Lo Regale is a good example of Arab-Norman architecture in Mazara, whose foundation probably goes back to the 12th century. It is in a Greek cross form with three apses. Inside, under the floor, some mosaics have been discovered from the early Christian period probably laid on a floor from the Roman age.
Built on the ruins of a villa dating to the period between the 3rd and 5th centuries AD, it was then rebuilt in the baroque period, but it has preserved its original appearance composed of a series of blind arches to close the three pointed windows arranged on each side of the structure.
Also close to Mazara is the Church of the Madonna dell’Alto, called "Giummare" and dating from the Byzantine era. It has a single nave, and the church is punctuated at regular intervals by three large arches with the roof vaults.
The church was built in 1100 to grant a wish by Judith (died 1136), daughter of Count Roger, to be in the same place where some years before a square tower had stood.
This church is also known as "Santa Maria delle 'Giummare'" for a type of dwarf palm, called 'Giummara', which grows in the area.
The façade has a porch on the left wall with two arches while the portal dates back to 14th century. Within two niches traces of Byzantine frescoes have been found that seem to represent St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom, and on the main altar stands a marble statue of the “Madonna and Child” by Giacomo Castagnola (16th century).
Baroque architecture in Mazara-del-Vallo
Towards the 16th century and until the beginning of the 18th the city gained various buildings in the Baroque style such as the Church of Saint Catherine, located behind the apse of the Cathedral. Built in the 14th century it was restored in the 17th century with a richly decorated and typical Baroque style, such as the grotesques. Inside there are some frescoes by Giuseppe Testa (18th century) and Antonello Gagini (1524).
The Church of Santa Veneranda is another typical example of Sicilian Baroque style, with two lodges, a pagoda roof, and a portal in Rococo style. The interior has a centric plan, and a fine plaster decoration.
Another example is the Baroque Church of S. Michael, a remake of an old Norman church that was founded by Roger II, with a Latin cross form, a single nave and small chapels. The decorations are by Tommaso Sciacca (1734-1795), author of numerous paintings on the altars and on the vault, and a fresco depicting the "Triumph of St. Michael and Bartholomew Sanseverino". The bell tower and the porch of the monastery date back to the 18th century.
See also the Church of San Francesco which was built in the late 18th century. The portal is by Leonardo lncrivaglia, and is adorned with a marble medallion depicting St. Francis receiving the stigmata. The interior has a nave and it is decorated with frescoes and stuccos.
More Mazara highlights
After exploring the churches in Mazara-del-Vallo you can visit the so-called "Museum of the Dancing Satyr" whose centerpiece is the statue of the "Dancing Satyr", found in 1997 in the Strait of Sicily.
This is an example of a Greek bronze statue dating from the late Hellenistic or early Empire period, and is a statue of uncommon size being about two meters high. Because of its size the "Dancing Satyr" was probably not part of a group of satyrs, but was alone - and perhaps later chained astern on a Roman warship.
It was often the case that statues of mythological character were carried astern of Roman warships to serve as "protectors" of the ship.
The “Dancing Satyr” is curved on the right side, with the arms extended forward and is captured in the moment of making a jump on the tip of his right foot while lifting the left leg.
Mazara coast and scenery
Mazara del Vollo offers tourists who love the sea several stretches of rocky coastline with beaches of fine sand, and also a nature reserve with typical Mediterranean vegetation. Other beaches close by are ideal for scuba diving.
Finally as confirmation of a tradition closely linking Mazara delVallo to the Arab culture, the local cuisine includes couscous, a culinary heritage of the Arabs of the Middle Ages; fried red mullet and cuttlefish, and sea bream in broth being among the local specialities. Mazara still boasts the largest fishing fleet in Italy.
See also Mazara-del-Vallo history and etymology.
Where is Mazara del Vallo?
Map of Mazara-del-Vallo sightseeing & popular sights
Address: Mazara-del-Vallo, Sicily, Italy || GPS: latitude 37.65, longitude 12.583333
Selected places to visit near Mazara-del-Vallo, Italy
See the Sicily guide for more travel ideas...