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.
In more recent years Trapani has also seen strong growth in tourism.
Trapani: among Castles, Churches and Art
It is the historic center of Trapani that is of most interest to visitors.
The oldest district of the old town, called Casalicchio, has two main axes: the Via Garibaldi (formerly known as Rua Nuova) and the Corso Italia. The layout of the medieval city is still visible.
The tip of the Trapani promontory follows a 'chessboard' structure, with one dominant street, the Corso Vittorio Emanuele.
The ancient city here was also originally surrounded by defensive walls but the last of these were demolished in the 19th century.
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 many religious buildings and palaces, with varying styles of architecture.
Architecture of Trapani: among others you will see examples of gothic art; the so-called plateresque style (a style that includes the Italian Renaissance, Gothic and Islamic-Spanish stylistic features); and also Renaissance and Baroque influences.
Your itinerary for exploring Trapani can start with the "towers" of the city, such as "The Tower of Ligny", built in the second half of the 17th century by the Viceroy Claudio Lamoraldo, which now houses 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 the tower called the “Torre della Colombaia” (also called the “Torre del Castello di Mare”) in the background.
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).
In the nearby district of San Francisco are the church and the convent of the Friars Minor Conventual. The church has a Latin cross form and is crowned by a large dome.
Inside the church are some statues by Cristoforo Milanti (17th century), representing the moral virtues of St. Francis; a wooden crucifix by Giacomo Tartaglia (1678-1751) and a statue of St. Anthony of Padua by Peter Orlando (17th century).
Continue along the Via San Francesco to reach the Church of the Immacolatella and the Church of Purgatory, dating from the late 17th century and by Bonaventura Certo and Giovanni Amico.
Along the Rua Grande you can also see 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 the Rua Grande there is 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 (1629?-1729) and Giovanni Amico (1684-1754) and painted in the 19th century by Vincenzo Manno.
The cathedral has three naves and a Latin cross form, while inside there are paintings by Domenico La Bruna (18th century) and a "Crucifixion" attributed to Van Dijck (1599-1641).
At the end of "Rua Grande” the 18th century Cavarretta Palace stands next to the clock tower and has a large central rosette, and is adorned by statues by Giuseppe Nolfo (17th century).
The Church of St. Augustine, now converted into an auditorium, is thought to date back to Norman times, when it was a temple of the Knights Templar. In the nearby Carmelite church, built in the 17th century, you can see the "Trinity" and the "Virgin" by Vito Carreca, and a crucifix by Pietro Orlando.
Other Trapani districts:San Pietro, Casalicchio, Biscottai, Catito, Tre Badie...
Heading inland through Trapani (away from the promontory) there are the districts of San Pietro, called Casalicchio, and of St. Nicholas, called Mezzo.
San Piedro: The district of San Pietro is the first area of Trapani with the Church of St. Peter, rebuilt in the 17th and 18th centuries. Here there are paintings by Andrea Carreca (1590-1677) and Rosario Matera (18th century), with 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 district called Tre Badie 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 [1672-1744] (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.
We conclude our tour with the Shrine of the Annunciation and the Museum Pepoli (see below). The church is of Baroque style, with a nave, with 16 large columns and wide eaves and looks out onto the Via Pepoli, and has a pointed arch and a large rose-window.
Inside there is a picture of the Annunciation by Rosario Matera while under the canopy, supported by eight marble columns, there is the statue of the “Madonna di Trapani”, of Parian marble, by Nino Pisano ( 13th century).
Pepoli Museum, Trapani
The Pepoli Museum is housed in the former convent of the Discalced Carmelites of Trapani. 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.
Trapani and the Mediterranean Sea
The sea is the key element of Trapani so there is no better way to finish our journey than with a look at 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 with species typical of the saline environment.
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 the 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.
Selected places to visit near Trapani
See the Sicily guide for more travel ideas...