The substantial town of Alcamo is on the slopes of Mount Bonifato, near the coast and at 256 meters above sea level in north-west Sicily on the gulf of Castellammare near Trapani in north-west Sicily.
The long sandy beach at the resort of Alcamo Marina, a few kilometres from the town, is the reason that most visitors find themselves here, but the old town of Alcamo itself is also worth exploring.
The countryside near Alcamo is dotted with castles, built to defend an area that was highly exposed to attacks, and these castles together form a highlight of your visit to the area. There were originally three main strongholds in the area: the Bonifato Castle, the Castle of Alcamo and the Castle of Calatubo.
In the war between Frederick III and the Angevin kings these castles played a key role in the military system of the island and they formed the key points of the defense organized by Frederick III. Some strategically important castles were strengthened, as was the case with the fortress of Bonifato.
Entering Alcamo old town you can now visit the only intact castle at Alcamo. The Castle of the Counts of Modica is between the Piazza Castello and Piazza della Repubblica. It was partly restored in the middle of the 14th century by some members of the Chiaromonte family, who followed the Peralta as Lords of Alcamo.
The imposing structure of the castle has a rectangular shape with four towers at the top, two of which are rectangular and the other two cylindrical, each with a vaulted ceiling. Convicts were held in the higher square tower while the third housed the sentries and the fourth was for guests.
The castle was equipped with several doors, one called "The Secret", facing south and which leads to the moat, while a second is on the west front and has a wooden door. The third door leads to the north and the main staircase, which after 1626 was paved with red marble from Alcamo, while the west side is decorated with elegant windows framed with carved rings.
Today the castle houses a regional wine shop and the Museum of Country Traditions.
The churches of Alcamo are another reason to take a trip to the old town and many are fine examples of the local Baroque style. The main church is the Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption. Built in the middle of the 14th century and enlarged in later centuries it is a basilica with three naves and two rows of columns of red marble from Mount Bonifato. The basilica contains many works of great artistic value such as the frescoes of the vault and other paintings by the Flemish artist Guglielmo Borremans (1670-1744).
Guglielmo Borremans worked at Alcamo in the first half of the 18th century, also performing two works that are kept at the Church of SS. Cosmas and Damian, and in 1735 he painted the frescoes of the vault in the nave of the Basilica of St. Maria Assunta, which were completed in 1737.
Particularly noteworthy is the high relief depicting 'The Transit of the Virgin' (carved, according to the documents, in 1529) and a marble ciborium with Saints Philip and James (carved around 1519) by Antonello Gagini (1478-1536 ), while the statue of St Peter is by Giacomo Gagini (1517-1598).
The Church of Saints Paul and Bartholomew, a local example of the Baroque style, was built in 1689 and holds some stuccoes by Gabriele Messina (18th century) and frescoes by Antonino Grano (1660-1718). The façade was made in 1782 and designed by Emanuele Cardona.
The Church holds valuable works of art by Giuseppe Felice [1706-1776] (St Peter and St Paul), and the 'Madonna del Miele', the most ancient painting found in Alcamo, and attributed to Barnaba da Modena (1328-1386).
The Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian was founded in 1500 but its current structure, designed by Giuseppe Mariani dates back to 1721. The interior, of Baroque style, contains statues made in 1722 by Giacomo Serpotta (1656-1732), and two paintings by the Flemish artist Guglielmo Borremans.
Among the important features of other churches in Alcamo, are the impressive portal of the Church of Saint Thomas (dating back to the middle of the 15th century and in Gothic-Catalan style with Corinthian capitals) and the Church of Santa Oliva (16th century), which houses works of the Gagini and the "Souls in Purgatory" by Pietro Novelli (1603-1647). The Church of Jesus was built between the 15th and 18th century and is a typical example of the local Baroque style.
The Alcamo Marina resort is of course the main attraction to Alcamo and attracts lots of tourists in the summer. This area was originally the centre of tuna fishing but as this industry declined in the area a Marina grew up here. The Marina has long sandy beaches and lots of bars and restaurants.
The Castle of Calatubo is situated in the territory of Alcamo on a rocky 'bed' that dominates the Gulf of Castellammare and the vast hinterland to Mount Bonifato. The castle is large and has its own entrance to the west, where the slope is less steep and inside the walls there are a well and a church.
The courtyard is dominated by the castle, with its façade topped by turrets which still have traces of the battlements. The north side faces a triangular courtyard, beneath which there is a cistern. Archaeological excavations have found a necropolis dating back to the 7th - 5th centuries BC.
There is a local Nature Reserve, 'the Nature Reserve Bosco di Alcamo' which sits at the top of Mount Bonifato. It has great views and you can visit the 17th century Church of the Madonna dell'Alto.
Alcamo also stands out in the territory of Castellammare del Golfo for its local agricultural products (figs, eggplants, melons, oranges), but above all for its wine production, especially for white wine, which is best accompanied by certain dishes such as the vegetable soups, grilled fish, stuffed mussels, mussel soup and usually fish, fried vegetables, and sheep cheese.
See also Alcamo history and etymology.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Sicily guide.