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This coastal town was settled as a fishing village and harbor at some time before 1000 BC (BCE) by the native Sicanians and later colonized by the Elymians as the port of hilltop Eryx a few miles away. Its name derives from an ancient word for "hook," for the shape of its harbor. To the indigenous Sicanians it was Drepano, to the Greeks Drepanon, to the Romans Drepanum. Trapani was founded in antiquity on Sicily's western coast The waters off the coast witnessed an epic sea battle between Carthaginians and conquering Romans in 241 BC, considered a turning point in Rome's conquest of the central Mediterranean. Geographically, Trapani is an unusual Sicilian city for its westward position, which affords spectacular views of some of the Mediterranean's most beautiful sunsets. The surrounding coastal plain is distinguished for its rich salt deposits, and until recently the white mineral was ground by windmills seen along the coast, which lends the environs an faintly Dutch appearance. In fact, most salt is now ground using modern means, with the wind mills retained for their historical value.
Although the oldest parts of the city have been modernized in most respects, Trapani reflects much of its medieval past, if not its ancient heritage. During the Norman era, the city had a polyglot population not unlike that of Bal'harm (Palermo), with large Jewish and Muslim quarters. Like Marsala, it was an important port for trade with Africa. The Annunciation Sanctuary, in Via Conte Pepoli, was built in the fourteenth century in the "Romanesque-Gothic" style and still retains some splendid medieval elements such as the facade's portal and rose window, though the church's interior has been extensively modified over the centuries.
Nearby, the Pepoli Museum is distinguished for its medieval and modern collections, including articles from the Bourbon era, though it also houses some ancient finds. It displays quite a few smaller craft and folk works which one rarely sees in other museums.
Also in the historical quarter, the "Spedaletto" (Giudecca Palace) is a Catalan-Gothic structure built in the sixteenth century, similar to buildings of the same style in Palermo and elsewhere in Sicily. Over in Via Sant'Agostino, the Church of Saint Mary of Jesus has a splendid Renaissance Gothic facade.
The Church of Sant'Agostino (Saint Augustine) is located in Piazzetta Saturno. It is Romanesque-Gothic with a beautiful rose window. This structure was extensively restored and partially reconstructed following the damage it suffered during the Allied bombardment in 1943.
The Cathedral and the Collegio Church were built in the Baroque style during the seventeenth century, the former on the remains of an older hurch.
Favignana: This island is located just southwest of Trapani. It is the largest of the Egadi, or Egidean, Islands. Still known for their tuna (tunny) fishing, these islands are now popular as summer resorts. Favignana, in particular, is a favorite spot for Sicilian sun worshipers. The ferries from Trapani arrive at the port city of Favignana, from which transportation to the other islands (Levanzo, Marettimo) is available. While most of Favignana's beachgoers are Italian, and increasing number of foreign visitors now venture here each year.
San Vito lo Capo: "Saint Vitus Cape" is a charming coastal town in the Trapani area with a great beach. Extending below Mount Cofano, a high pointed limestone cliff visible from a distance, San Vito is near the Zingaro Nature Reserve and the hamlet of Scopello, where some scenes of the movie Ocean's Twelve were filmed in 2004. San Vito is known for its annual couscous festival (see below). A good place for a vacation, and Erice and Segesta, two of Sicily's historic jewels, are not far away. This might almost be considered a "secret" spot known to few tourists, presently popular with Germans.
Scopello:The last time we were in Scopello, a feudal village near the coast between Castellamare del Golfo and San Vito Lo Capo (west of Palermo), the only foreign visitors we encountered were a few American girls in their early twenties. Heaven only knows how they found out about the place. But it's a very nice spot, near a public beach and a nature reserve. Two medieval watch towers guard the nearby coast. The focus of the tiny town is the piazza and baglio.
Fortunately, no large hotels or resorts have marred the landscape yet, though there are villas for rent in the area. You may have to search for lodging in San Vito Lo Capo. The Zingaro nature reserve, Erice and Segesta make pleasant excursions.
Who goes to Scopello? In June, July and August, there's no dearth of foreigner visitors. We recommend visiting from March through October, but any time is good. Book early for july and August. There are several agritourism estates (farmhouses) in the area that offer rustic accomodations. But even one day discovering Scopello is a day well spent.
Baglio? It's one of those Italian words nobody ever defines perfectly. Without wishing to digress from the discussion at hand, we'll say that the English word bailey (outer wall of a castle), from the Old French baile (palisaded enclosure), probably shares the Norman origin of the Italian term. Essentially, a baglio is a square, fortified courtyard with a strong gate and perhaps a low tower or two, surrounded by walls and low buildings. More than a fort but not quite a castle. The Sicilian baglio is a medieval Norman invention but few surviving bagli are actually medieval, despite a few would-be knights we saw trying (unsuccessfully, it seemed) to seduce American maidens at Scopello. Scopello's baglio is several centuries old and its courtyard houses restaurants and a café. A perfect retreat on a hot summer day. The baglio represents the hamlet's recent agricultural past, but the coastal towers are a reminder of the Saracen and Norman domination of Sicily.
For Visitors: Couscous is a local specialty in this area, and San Vito holds a festival dedicated to this food at the end of September. Trapani has a summer music festival (the Luglio Musicale Trapanese) in July, and in spring an annual tuna festival based on the mattanza. Speaking of seafood, it is excellent in this part of Sicily. We suggest the tuna, a delicious experience nothing like the stuff you buy in cans at the supermarket; it's not even the same variety.
Last revision November 2012.
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