Marsala, which the Arabs called "Marsa Allah" (i.e. "the port of Allah"), has a very ancient history with its roots in the Phoenician-Punic age and was an important port for the carthaginians.
Italy This Way comment: the historic centre of Marsala is interesting but small, so during a tour of Sicily we would visit to explore but we would perhaps not stay in the town
Your visit to Marsala can start in the Piazza della Repubblica, the main square in the centre. On this square you can visit the main church in the town, dedicated to Saint Thomas of Canterbury and with a baroque style façade. The church is of Norman origin but has been rebuilt over the centuries.
The church façade is decorated with statues and flanked by two bell towers, while the interior has three naves and a number of 16th century sculptures, among them the "Madonna of the People" by Domenico Gagini (1420-1492).
To the left of the church, the Palazzo VII Aprile is the most impressive palazzo in Marsala, with two rows of arcades and galleries, 20 ionic columns and a clocktower. Behind the Cathedral Church you can also visit the Tapestry Museum, which houses some 16th century Flemish tapestries depicting scenes from the Bible.
The Old Town in Marsala is part of the so-called "Cassaro", an area once enclosed by walls, some of which remain and date back to the time of Spanish rule. The most intact part of the walls is Baluardo Velasco on via Bettino.
If you follow via Giuseppe Garibaldi from the main square, you reach the most important gate through the walls, the Porta Garibaldi, also in the baroque style. The second port in the town is the Porta Nuova, in the same style although slightly less imposing.
This road is also the best place to see the charming townhouses and palazzos in the centre of Marsala, several with carved stone balconies and ornate balustrades.
Just outside the gate there is a public gardens, established here in 1895. The gardens are quite small but contain various interesting plants and there is a row of attractive townhouses along the edge of the park.
Elsewhere in the centre of Marsala you will discover several churches, such as the Church of the Adoration.
Marsala Archaology Museum
An important museum in Marsala is the Archaeological Museum, which houses interesting prehistoric finds from Marsala and the surrounding area and the remains of a Punic ship. The wreck, of which part of the stern and the port side are preserved, was originally about 30m long and 4m wide.
There is also a large jar of fruit found in Mozia (Mothya) which, according to critics, dates back the so-called "culture of Thapsos", and various stone tools of the Upper Paleolithic era as well as various objects from the Phoenician age including a funerary urn and a pair of jewels.
Other items include a 3rd century BC bronze mirror, funerary slaps from the 4-3rd century BC and some important floor mosaics from the 5th century.
Places to visit nearby
One popular attraction at Marsala is the salt flats of the Isola della Stagnone. These extensive saltflats have an unusual beauty, with the colours of the water and the presence of windmills making it an interesting sight, now classified as the Salt Works Natural Reserve.
It is a large area of salt flats which are home to many species of birds, and the area is still used to produce salt using traditional methods - and the ancient windmills that dot the landscape. You can visit a Salt Museum to see how the salt extraction takes place at Salina Genna.
Both the seafront and old town of Mazara del Vallo are popular with visitors.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Sicily guide.