Palermo is busy, hectic, intimidating and interesting by turns. It's the city which most encapsulates Sicily, and it is the home to some of the region's most important tourist attractions.
Palermo is Sicily's regional capital, and is a busy port city situated on the north-western coast of the island. In the Middle Ages, Palermo was one of Europe's leading cities, but nowadays the town is still trying to recover from twentieth-century years of blight. With a reputation as a hotbed for both petty and organised crime, Palermo's attractions as a tourist destination are frequently overlooked. There is some fine architecture to be admired, as well as good museums, churches, markets and restaurants.
Erice is in such a spectacular, naturally fortified position high above the natural harbour of Trapani, that it is not surprising that the site has been occupied for millennia. It's perhaps not suprising either, that with the crag's veil of shifting clouds and air of mystery it was an important sacred site. There was a temple of Venus here which outlasted the different civilisions holding sway in the area. The female divinity to which the shrine was dedicated changed slightly with each culture: Astarte for the Phoenicians, Aphrodite for the Greeks and Venus for the Romans. Fertility rites would probably have taken place on or around the temple site, at the highest point of the town.
Segesta high up in a mountainous area towards the west of Sicily is the beautiful and frankly magical Segesta archaeological complex. Segesta was originally founded by the Elymian people, one of the native people of Sicily. They later integrated with the Greeks, making Segesta an important Classical town. It was later ruled by the Romans, but declined in importance before being finally abandoned in around the thirteenth century.
Selinunte is one of Sicily's great Greek archaeological sites. Situated by the sea in the south-western corner of Sicily, the isolated ruins here have stood abandoned for most of their history. The lack of later development allows modern visitors to imagine the ancient town of Selinus as it would have been two and a half thousand years ago. The archaeological park at Selinunte is huge, incorporating Greek temples, ancient town walls, the ruins of residential and commercial buildings, countryside paths and zones not yet excavated. If you are interested in Greek Sicily, this is a very important site to visit, and the temples' setting close to the sea is wonderfully picturesque.
The Tonnara di Scopello. Scopello village is pleasant enough, but you probably wouldn't come here if it weren't for what lies down on the sea below. A combination of manmade and natural features have created a gloriously scenic little cove which can be glimpsed from the village, and explored up close by swimmers and sun-bathers. Offshore there are dramatic faraglioni, rock towers in the sea. Two historic defensive towers stand poised on the rocks, combining with a third tower up by the village to unify the wider views. And in the small rocky bay there is a faded old tonnara, a tuna fishery, an important part of the history of this part of Sicily. The Tonnara di Scopello closed down in the 1980s, but for a couple of decades it remained as it was left, and visitors could wander among the old buildings and tuna fishing equipment. The spot is hugely popular with local Sicilians, who don't mind sharing tiny patches of rock and concrete with many other sun-worshippers, and who revel in the clear waters for swimming.
Marsala is nowadays most famous for its wine, also called Marsala. After a long period of poverty, Marsala became home to a prosperous wine trade, developed by entrepeneurs at the end of the eighteenth century, led by one John Woodhouse, from Liverpool, who exported the fortified wine. Other English and Sicilian businessmen followed his example, and it was in fact one of these men, Joseph Whitaker, who began excavating and piecing together the history of Mozia.
Marsala's other claim to fame is as the landing place for Garibaldi and his thousand men (the Mille) on May 11th 1860, starting the chain of events immediately preceding Italy's unification. Throughout town you'll find commemorative plaques, and businesses of every description trading under Garibaldi's name and image.
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