Trapani, Sicily, port town with an interesting historical center

Photo of Trapani (Sicily region)

Visit Trapani

In the early twentieth century Trapani in western Sicily became the sixth largest port in Italy, based around salt production and tuna fishing. These activities continue today, along with an important local agriculture industry.

Explore Trapani

Trapani is not a major tourist destination but its position at the western tip of Sicily and with access to the Aegadian islands as well as to Pantelleria, Sardinia and Tunisia make it a useful base. The historic center of Trapani has plenty to interest visitors to the town.

Trapani suffered extensive bombing in the Second World War and the rebuilding of the new town is not very lovely however the old town and towards the tip of the promontary largely escaped and is worth exploring.

At the tip is the 17th century Torre de Ligny, 'Tower of Ligny', which was once part of extensive walled defences. It is now home to the Museum of Prehistory. Nearby there is the small Church of San Liberale, dedicated to the patron saint of coral fishermen and built in the 17th century. Also here is the fishing port, with another tower -the “Torre della Colombaia” (also called the “Torre del Castello di Mare”) in the background.

Trapani Ligny Tower

The oldest district of the old town, called Casalicchio, has a medieval layout which is still visible.

The city is rich in art and architecture from the 14th-20th centuries, which offer remarkable examples of Sicilian architecture and art. This can be seen in the many religious buildings and palaces. The architecture of Trapani includes Gothic, Plateresque  (a style that includes the Italian Renaissance, Gothic and Islamic-Spanish stylistic features) and also Renaissance and Baroque influences.

Churches of Trapani

In Rua Grande you will find the Trapani Cathedral, dedicated to San Lorenzo and built in the first half of the 14th century. The cathedral was later restructured by Bonaventura Certo and Giovanni Amico and painted in the 19th century by Vincenzo Manno.

Also on the Rua Grande is the Church of the College, built in the early 17th century by the Jesuits Natale Masuccio. Inside the church there are two 17th century paintings: St. Ignatius by Vito Carreca and St. Francis Xavier by Pietro Novelli.

In 'Scio square' the Church of Santa Epifania was built in the 17th century by the Capuchin Fathers. Inside there is a statue of the Crucifixion by Fra’ Benedetto Valenza (18th century).

Also in the heart of the old town are the Church of the Immacolatella and the Church of Purgatory, dating from the late 17th century and by Bonaventura Certo and Giovanni Amico. The Church of Purgatory is home to twenty life-size wooden statues known as the Misteri which are paraded through the streets as part of the Easter procession each year.

Trapani cathedral

As well as the churches there are various ornate palaces including the 18th century Cavarretta Palace which stands next to the clock tower and has a large central rosette, and is adorned with statues by Giuseppe Nolfo (17th century).

Other Trapani districts: San Pietro, Biscottai, Catito, Tre Badie...

San Piedro: The district of San Pietro houses the Church of St. Peter, rebuilt in the 17th and 18th centuries. With paintings by Andrea Carreca (1590-1677) and Rosario Matera (18th century), and some sculptures by Giuseppe Milanti  and Mario Ciotta.

Biscottai: In the adjacent area known as Biscottai are the Fardelliana Library (19th century) and the Church of Santa Maria of Jesus, dating from the 16th century, which holds a "Madonna" by Andrea della Robbia (1435-1525), and a bas-relief by Antonello Gagini (1478-1536).

Catito: In the area known as Catito, one of the oldest districts in Trapani, the Church of St. Nicholas was probably erected in 536 by Belisarius (500-565 AD) as a Church of the Ascension. In the 18th century it was enlarged and redesigned by Giovanni Amico. The altarpiece on the main altar is by Antonello Gagini.

Tre Badie: In the Tre Badie district you can see the Convent and Church of San Domenico built by the Dominican Friars on the ruins of the Church of Santa Maria la Nova. The tombs of the kings of Navarre, and the tomb of Manfredi (1232-1266), the son of Frederick II of Swabia, are preserved here.

You can also admire an ancient crucifix in a chapel erected by Giovanni Amico and paintings by Andrea Carreca and Rosario Matera, and a group of sculptures of the Madonna of the Rosary by the Neapolitan school.

From the church of San Domenico, via a staircase called the Calata of San Domenico, you can reach the ancient Rua Nova, now called Via Garibaldi and with several palaces and churches of great artistic value.

These include the Church of Santa Maria del Soccorso (called “Badia Nuova”), with a wealth of polychrome marble and rich in paintings by Guglielmo Borremans (Madonna del Rosario), Pietro Novelli (St. Dominic), and Andrea Carreca (Santa Catherine).

In the Church of Santa Maria dell'Itria, built in the second half of the 17th century by the Augustinians, are a crucifix by Pietro Orlando and paintings of St. Nicholas of Tolentino by Andrea Carreca and Sant Agostino by Pietro Novelli.

Also worth considering, though 4 km from the centre, are the Shrine of the Annunciation and the Museum Pepoli (see below). The church is of Baroque style and contains the “Madonna di  Trapani” by Nino Pisano ( 13th century).

Pepoli Museum, Trapani

The Pepoli Museum is housed in the former Carmelite convent of Trapani. Inside is a collection of art put together by Conte Pepoli. On the ground floor of the museum there are gravestones, inscriptions, architectural fragments and sculptures; and on the first floor there is an art gallery with works from the 13th to the 18th century by the Flemish, Roman and Sicilian Schools of art.

Among those of note are a Pieta by Roberto Oderisio (1335-1382), a Madonna by the so-called “Master of the polyptych of Trapani” (14th/15th century), and “St. Francis with the stigmata” by Titian (1485-1576).

See also the sculpture collection in coral, ivory, and alabaster, and some pieces of silverware by Filippo Iuvara (1678-1736). Also of considerable interest in the gallery of tiles are the floors depicting the coral fishing and the tunny net. Coral fishing was once a big industry here but sadly the reefs have been depleted!

Trapani and its salt flats

Trapani salt flats

The sea is the key element of Trapani as are the salt pans of Trapani and Paceco, along the "Via del Sale," which runs from Trapani to Marsala along the coast. In some places these salt flats have a great natural importance, characterized by a flora and fauna adapted to the saline environment.

Local cuisine

Finally, you can't visit Trapani and overlook the local cuisine, which is clearly influenced by its role as a maritime town. Menus are dominated by fish, especially recipes including tuna and following well established traditions and methods handed down by the Arabs.

The tuna is cooked in different ways, fried, grilled, baked, boiled or used in the preparation of sauces to flavor dishes or appetizers.

Among other typical products are the black bread of Castelvetrano, the so-called "cabbuccio", and a cheese called vastedda.

Of course you should try these dishes with one of the typical wines of the area around Trapani such as the Marsala and the Passito.

See also Trapani history and etymology.

Places to visit nearby

Erice has a Norman castle and a Gothic church to explore and Levanzo is a small island with quaint whitewashed houses.

See also:

Photos of Trapani

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Map of Trapani and places nearby

Trapani places to visit

See more places nearby in the Sicily guide