Visiting Trapani

Trapani is the westernmost town of Sicily. The ancient Greeks and Romans had their own mythological versions of the foundation of this city (whose name comes from the Greek “Drepanon,” or “sickle”). In the first legend, Trapani stemmed from the sickle which fell from the hands of the goddess Demeter while she was seeking for her daughter Persephone, who had been kidnapped by Hades.  The second myth features Saturn, who eviscerated his father Uranus, god of the sky, with a sickle which, falling into the sea, created the city.  In ancient times, Saturn was the god-protector of Trapani. Today, Saturn’s statue stands in a piazza in the center of the city.

What is sure is that the town’s foundation dates all the way back to 1250 B.C. when it was settled by an ancient population called the “Elimi.”  Then in the 9th century B.C., the Phoenicians arrived from Carthage and lived side by side with the Elimi in peace–and there they all remained, even while central and eastern Sicily was occupied by the Greeks.

It’s during the Punic Wars that Trapani encounters its first troubles, as the Romans were merciless with the allies of Carthage.  The decadence came slowly to an end during the domination of the Vandals, the Byzantines, the Arabs, and above all, the Normans, who brought the city to prosperity around 1100 A.D. 

Trapani was a key point during the Crusades, and then eventually passed to the Aragons.  After the wars, the town reestablished its prosperity by doing what it knew best: extracting salt and fishing tuna.

Monte Erice is a cable car ride from the city and aside from the cobbled streets and medieval castle; there are views of Tunisia and Africa from up there on clear days.

Trapani’s saline have been in place since first constructed by the Phoenicians.  At certain points throughout its history, the town owed its very survival to this special type of business. In an area as big as 500 sq. miles, the old windmills still stand, which are used to both grind the salt, and to pump the sea water from one tank to another.  Today, the mark “Sale Marino di Trapani” has been awarded with the seal “I.G.P.,” meaning that nowhere else in the world is there a salt produced with these very prized and specific characteristics.

Salt was prized by the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, and the Egyptians. Salt became an important article of trade and was transported by boat across the Mediterranean Sea, along specially built salt roads, and across the Sahara in camel caravans. The scarcity and universal need for salt has led nations to go to war over salt and use it to raise tax revenues. Salt is also used in religious ceremonies and has other cultural significance.

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