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Narrowly situated between the sea and Mount Erice, the ancient Drepanon developed around its port. Originally it was a Sicanian village and it then became a small, fortified town where traders, fishermen and craftsmen from diverse populations lived for centuries, such as the Elyminians who populated Erice and a small group of Ionians. It was a small seaside town founded by the Phoenicians who sailed across the Mediterranean seas and made Trapani a trading Empire. From the IX Century BC the Phoenicians lost their independence and settled in the western Mediterranean. They founded Carthage and reinforced Trapani, transforming the latter into an important port for the control of various trading goods. In this period the history of Trapani is indissolubly linked to that of Carthage. The town assisted in the great naval battles between the Carthaginians and the Romans: the battle of 249 BC that witnessed the defeat of the Roman float, and the battle of the Egadi in 241 BC which allowed the Romans to occupy Trapani. The Roman period notably penalized the town which lost its political autonomy, land ownership and endured new taxes and impositions. In 395 Sicily, and Trapani itself, were taken over by the Western Roman Emperor. These were difficult years, also because of the numerous Barbaric invasions. The town was reborn under the domination of the Arabs who began their occupation of Sicily in 827.
The Arabs called Trapani Itrabinis, Tarabanis, Trapanesch and their presence significantly marked the town: in architecture, agriculture, art, language and culture. The port was enlarged, new districts were built and small ownership was reintroduced. The Arabs also introduced new productions; they built hydraulic-engineering works; revolutionised the fishing techniques, and brought the port back to its original splendour. In 1097 Trapani was conquered by the Norman Ruggero. This was yet another period of great prosperity for the land. The port enjoyed duty free trade, and the town began hosting consulates of the most important traders from Geneva, Pisa, Venice, Florence, Amalfi and Catalonia. The Roman Catholic religion became the official religion under the Normans. In the Suevian period, beginning from 1194, the importance of Trapani’s port was confirmed. Under the reign of Carlo d’Angio’, Trapani endured a period of difficulty due to heavy tax pressures. The Sicilian Vespri of 1282, in which numerous notables from Trapani participated, brought the Angionian domination in Sicily to an end. This is when the Aragonese domination began.
The town experienced a new urbanisation under Giacomo II of Aragon. Carlo V further developed the activities of traders and craftsmen. The Spanish domination ended in 1713. After the brief Sabaudian and Austrian dominations, from the second half of the seventh century, the Bourbonist reign began and governed Sicily until 1860. In this period the people of Trapani dedicated themselves to commerce and industry. Naval activity flourished, as well as the tuna and salt industries. While it proved to be disinterested in the 1820 insurrection, Trapani participated in the 1848 revolts. In 1899 King Umberto I bestowed the town with a gold medal for the events of 1848. The town made an important contribution to the unification of Italy and confirmed its importance in the sectors of agriculture and food. However the geographical distance from the big markets brought an inexorable decline which was accentuated even more in the first years of the twentieth century and during the First World War. Yet the cultural and political activities remained particularly vivacious. During the twenty years of fascism the economy of the area marginally improved. The Second World War severely affected the town with the destruction of the entire district of San Pietro, the oldest part of Trapani, and of Garibaldi Theatre which was built in 1849. The town suffered twenty-eight air raids and was thus the ninth most bombarded town in the country.
“Trapani, the town of the primitives and an ancient place of residence, is surrounded by the sea from all sides. The sea enters the town by means of a bridge from the eastern side. The port is situated in the southern part: it is a tranquil port without movement. Here a large number of sailing ships spend the winter sheltered from the winds since the sea remains calm here while waves rage outside. An abundance of fish is caught in this port; large tuna nets are also set, and coral of the finest quality is found in the sea of Trapani. In front of the entrance to the town lies a salina (saltworks)”.
With these words Al’ Idris, an Arab geographer at the court of King Ruggero, speaks of Trapani and its economy.
Over the centuries the town has undergone several changes while maintaining its characteristic sickle shape. It is situated three meters above sea level and covers a surface of about 4000 square meters. Its position is at 38° 4’ of northern latitude and at 30° 40’ of western longitude. It has 69497 inhabitants (according to the October 2001 census). The town is characterised by the presence of four sighting towers: Torre Vecchia, Torre del Castello di Terra, Torre Pali, Torre di Porta Oscura or Dell’Orologio. During the Punic War, the Carthaginian General Amilcare Barca built the fifth tower, the Castello della Colombaia. The four towers surrounded the town with quadrilateral boundary walls. The boundaries were marked by the current Via Garibaldi, Via XXX Gennaio, Via Torre Pali and Via Torre Arsa. The eastern walls ended with a moat, followed by a navigable canal. The urban centre was enlarged in the Aragonian period.
The “di mezzo” (middle) or San Nicola district and the Palazzo district were added to the original “Casalicchio” or San Pietro district. In this period the Rua Grande (the present Corso Vittorio Emanuele) and the Rua Nova (the present Via Garibaldi) were built. The defences were strengthened by the construction of a boundary wall and reinforced with bastions. The town had eleven entrances and numerous new defence bastions. In 1671 Torre di Ligny was built under the order of the Viceroy don Claudio Morando, the Prince of Ligny. It still exists today. Inside Torre di Ligny, situated at the furthest end of the sickle, there is the Prehistory Museum. In 1862 the Italian Government, with a Royal Decree, withdrew the town’s status as a Piazza d’Armi (Parade Ground), which had previously obliged it to maintain fortifications.
The bastions and the boundary wall were therefore knocked down and the town expanded towards the east. The area of Marinella in the Salina del Collegio was drained and reclaimed; the navigable canal was filled. Rua Grande and Rua Nova were given their current names. The roads were paved and others were built, such as the Sea Front, Piazza Marina and Via Fardella. The construction of the Palazzo delle Poste (Central Post Office), the Provincia (Province), and the Capitaneria di Porto (Port Authorities) also date back to this period. Following the expropriation of the Church estate and the abolition of the religious confraternities, several properties were passed onto the Municipality, the Province and private individuals. They became public offices, schools and institutes. Other buildings were demolished, such as the convent of Sant’Agostino and the Monastery of Santa Chiara. The bombardments of the Second World War determined a new urban asset in the town. The San Pietro district was rebuilt with the creation of a new road, Corso Italia. The districts of Palma, San Giuliano (which fall back onto the territory of Erice) and Cappuccinelli were added to the traditional districts of San Pietro, San Francesco, San Lorenzo, San Nicola, Maria Ausiliatrice, Sacro Cuore and Borgo Annunziata.
Visiting the town of Trapani is like emerging yourself in the diverse historical eras. Every corner is characterised by monuments, churches and buildings which narrate the town’s history over the course of the various centuries. The pulsing heart of Trapani remains to be the port, situated in the historical centre. Over time, the port of Trapani has undergone several modifications, up until the present day with the ongoing works of repaving the quays and of overall adjustments. The end-point of the town is characterised by Torre di Ligny where the Prehistoric Museum is now located. You can reach the museum by walking down a narrow road surrounded on both sides by an intense, blue sea, often visited by numerous sun-bathers during the summer. Not far from here is the fishing port where fishing boats are renovated in a tradition that has been handed down over the centuries from father to son. In the fishing part of the port, one can admire the Villino Nasi, recently recovered for public use, together with the Lazzaretto where the local section of the Italian Lega Navale is now situated. Not far from here, in the middle of the sea, lies the Colombaia, one of the landmarks of the town.
Moving towards the town centre, one can admire the old palazzi (palaces), the monuments and the chiese (churches) from different eras.
A large part of the historical centre of Trapani is for the use of pedestrians only and the use of cars is strictly forbidden in many of the roads in this part of the town, which over time has assumed the character of a sort of a salotto (sitting room).
Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the old Loggia (Lodge), Via Torrearsa, Via Garibaldi. Here there is a succession of historical palazzi and churches of notable artistic worth. The Palazzo Cavarretta, the Cathedral, Palazzo Riccio di Morana, Palazzo San Rocco, Palazzo Riccio di San Gioacchino, Palazzo Lucatelli, the Chiesa del Collegio (College Church).
Not far from here one finds the Chiesa del Purgatorio, where the sacred statues of the Misteri of Trapani are kept. From Via Garibaldi, going up a flight of steps on the left, one reaches the Chiesa di San Domenico with the attached convent. Piazza Sant’Agostino opens up onto Via Torrearsa, where one finds a church characterised by an impressive façade of a rose-window and the Fountain of Saturn.
Going on from here one reaches Piazza Scarlatti. Nearby one finds the old Chiesa di San Giacomo that houses the Fardelliana Library. Following Corso Italia one arrives at the Chiesa di San Pietro which treasures the precious organ built by Francesco La Grassa from Palermo. The Corso then leads into the so-called Ghetto, Via Della Giudecca and Via degli Ebrei, which was inhabited by the Jewish community until the XV century. The Northern part of the town is characterised by the Litoranea (seafront) with the picturesque Piazza del Mercato del Pesce (Fish Market Square).
The seafront road stretches along a few kilometres and runs alongside the old wall of the town. The border between the old town and the new one is characterised by Piazza Vittorio Emanuele. A short distance away, in Piazza Vittorio Veneto, one finds Palazzo d’Ali, where the Municipality Building is situated, and opposite there is the Post Office, which is built in an art nouveau style. Following this road one reaches the Villa Margherita, the “lung” or outdoor space of the town. It has giant ficus trees dating back to the ninth century.
Piazza Vittorio Emanuele is characterised by the statue of Vittorio Emanuele II designed by Giovanni Dupre’ (1882) and by a large basin built in 1890 at the centre of which sit the group of Tritone sculptures sculpted by the master Domenico Li Muli in 1950.
After Piazza Vittorio Emanuele one arrives at Via Giovan Battista Fardella, the main road of the town, full of shops and bars. From here one can reach the new part of the town. Corso Piersanti Mattarella, which leads up to the district of Erice, Via Conte Agostino Pepoli where the Basilica dell’Annunziata and the Regional Pepoli Museum/ Museo Regionale Pepoli are located.
Trapani was founded by the Elymians to serve as the port of the nearby city of Erice (ancient Eryx), which overlooks it... more travel advice
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