Trapani is an important town and port in north-west Sicily. In the early twentieth century Trapani became the sixth largest port in Italy, based around salt production and tuna fishing, and these activities continue today, along with an important local agriculture industry.
Italy This Way comment: the position of Trapani 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, and the historic center of Trapani has plenty to interest visitors to the town.
Although Trapani suffered extensive bombing in the Second World War the old town and the tip of the promontory largely escaped damage and is certainly worth exploring.
Exploring the town is straightforward: park in Piazza Emmanuelle rather than trying to drive in the old town then follow the main road to the west to start exploring. The oldest district of the old town, called Casalicchio, has a medieval layout which is still largely unchanged.
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 and the architecture of Trapani includes Gothic, Plateresque (a style that includes the Italian Renaissance, Gothic and Islamic-Spanish stylistic features) as well as Renaissance and Baroque influences.
From Piazza Veneto you reach via Garibaldi, which has several imposing villas - palazzos in Italian - that remind of the wealth of Trapani in the 19th century. Halfway along via Garibaldi there is a staircase called the Calata de San Domenica that leads to the church of San Domenico, via a staircase called the Calata of San Domenico.
The Convent and Church of San Domenico was 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.
At the end of via Garibaldi you can see the traditional fish market, and just behind here on the coast there is a beach and a lovely view along the promontory, with the tall old houses and the sea.
Next follow via Torrearsa a short distance to reach the junction with Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle. This is the centre of the old town and close to most of the important monuments in Trapani, with several imposing palazzos.
The most imposing palazzo is 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
There is also a church near the same junction, the Church of the College Jesuits, 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.
Trapani cathedral is just a short distance along Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle from here. It is 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: it was locked when we visited but the workmanship in the doors was very impressive!
Also in the heart of the old town you wll find other churches, including the Church of the Immacolatella and the Church of Purgatory, both 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.
At the tip of the promontory 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 you can see 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.
If you follow the southern edge of the peninsula for your return you can see the large port that is so important to the economy in Trapani. When you reach Piazza Garibaldi you can leave the waterside and pass through Piazza Scarlatti and Piazza san Agostino to reach Corso Italia, which leads into the district of San Pietro.
At the end of Corso Italia, a few hundred metres south-east of the main square in Trapani, you can see the Church of Saint Peter, rebuilt in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the church there are paintings by Andrea Carreca (1590-1677) and Rosario Matera (18th century), and some sculptures by Giuseppe Milanti and Mario Ciotta.
Other Trapani districts: San Pietro, Biscottai, Catito, Tre Badie...
Although most visitors never venture outside the heart of the old town and peninsula in Trapani, if you are staying longer there are other churches to discover elsewhere in the city.
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.
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.
Pepoli Museum, Trapani
The Pepoli Museum is housed in the former Carmelite convent of Trapani, abot two kilometres east of the centre. 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!
See also Trapani history and etymology.
Places to visit nearby
The sea is a key element of Trapani as are the salt pans of Trapani and Paceco, along the "Via del Sale," which runs along the coast from Trapani to Marsala. In some places these salt flats have a great natural importance, characterized by a flora and fauna adapted to the saline environment.
Erice is a picturesque village with a Norman castle and a gothic church to explore (and good views of Trapani from its hilltop location) that can be reached from Trapani by cable car. Levanzo is a small island with quaint whitewashed houses.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Sicily guide.