What to see in Erice

On Sicily westernmost coast, dominating the city of Trapani below it, the  Egadi Islands to the southwest, and Monte Cofano to the east, stands the city of Erice, perched high atop the mountain of the same name. Erice’s exceptional location on a plateau rising 751 meters above sea level contributes to a remarkable preservation of its medieval atmosphere, from the streets paved in marble to the stone walls enclosing flower-laden internal courtyards where family life unfolds undisturbed. A visitor who walks the winding streets of Erice is transported to a faraway past as varied as the many shades of gray seen in the stones of the city: the baroque style of an overhanging balcony, the Gothic majesty of the Chiesa Madre, the mighty Norman architecture and the 15th centure lines of buildings all attest to Erice’s splendid history. The scene is further enchanted by the drifting fog that envelops the city and surrounding pine forest.
The magnificent panoramas that greet the eye from every vantage point are the backdrop for the overhanging rocks surrounding the cliffs of Erice. These breathtaking views include the city of Trapani, the famous salt pans, the Egadi islands, and, further south, the city of Marsala. On a clear day one can see as far away as the volcanic island of Pantelleria, the black pearl of the Canal of Sicily, and Capo Bon. To the east lies the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Gulf of Custonaci, and the coastline leading to San Vito lo Capo and beyond, until the island of Ustica. There are the horizons that remind the viewer of an ancient and wealthy Erice, from whom the inhabitants of Segesta asked to borrow the golden cups in order to impress the visiting Athenians and from whom assistance was sought in war against the Siracusans. Erice, which became one of Sicily’s most extensive municipalities with  a territory comprising San Vito lo Capo, Buseto Palizzolo, Custonaci, Valderice, Castellamare… Erice – Monte San Giuliano – is full of tradition, art, agriculture, and culture and, still today, unites the inhabitants of this beautiful corner of Sicily.

The name Erice is derived from the Sican-Sicel-Italic term Eryx, meaning mountain. There are caves overlooking the sea that were inhabited by Upper Palaeolithic and Neolithic man. Erice became an Elymian city and had a temple dedicated to the goddess of fertility Astartes (the Roman Venus Erycinia). Before and after the brief Greek domination of Agrigento and Syracuse, Erice was a Punic city, as testified today by its massive walls. The Carthaginians destroyed it in 260 BC. In 247 BC it was occupied by the Romans. And it declined both as a stronghold and as a town. It then followed the vicissitudes of the rest of the island: first it was Byzantine, then Arab after 381, when it was called Gebel-Hamed. It fell to the Normans in the 12th c. The Normans repopulated the town and in addition to various other fortifications on the remains of the sanctuary, the Normans built their castle, fulcrum of a defensive system that included the Torri del Balio (Balio towers – “Bajulo” the name  of the magistrate who represented The King and resided with his court in the castle) which constituted the  brought-about fortifications. The castle also called the Castle of Venus. It was built on the cliff of the “thémenos” in the XII century, was connected to the lower floor of the towers by a drawbridge, then substituted by the flight of steps that still today is went along to reach it.  In the interior were found – and also, unfortunately, lost – architectural elements of the historical course, essentially able to be  attributed to the Mrdieval reconstruction of the fortress, in which also fragments of the ancient sanctuary were reused – as well as to the rebuilding of the temple in Roman times.

The town took the name that Count Roger gave to the mountain: Monte San Giuliano. In the Middle Ages numerous churches and convents were built and, since then, apart from a few baroque buildings and the restoration of Piazza Umberto I in the 19th c., this mountain town has remained unchanged. In 1934 it resumed its ancient name of Erice.
Unfortunately, little is known of the Elymians. Originally from Asia Minor (possibly Anatolia), they arrived in Sicily to settle some of the island's western regions around 1200 BC (BCE), during more-or-less the same period that the Sicels, migrating from peninsular Italy, colonised the northeastern part of the island. Both coexisted with the native Sicanians. During the Greek domination most of the Elymians, including those of Segesta (Egesta), assimilated culturally with the Greeks. Evidence suggests that the Elymians of Eryx, however, assimilated more readily with the Punic culture of the Carthaginians.
The Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans, in turn, conquered the city, which never developed a particularly strong Greek culture except for that of the medieval Byzantines of the Eastern Roman Empire. To the Arabs, Erice was an important foothold known as Gebel Hamed, which the Normans christened Monte San Giuliano, a name by which it was known until 1934, when it was given its original Latin nomenclature. Standing atop a mountain (around 750 metres above sea level) overlooking nearby Trapani and the beaches of San Vito Lo Capo, delightful Erice is almost something of a western Sicilian Taormina. Pepoli Castle.There are some ancient Elymian and Phoenician walls surrounding the northeastern side of the city, and two castles, Pepoli Castle, with foundations dating from Arab times, and nearby Venus Castle, dating from the Norman period but built on ruins of the ancient Temple of Venus. Surrounded by lush park, the hilltop castles alone are worth a stop in Erice, which offers charming old stone streets and several medieval churches. Pepoli Castle was at first a feudal stronghold, though Erice was eventually ceded to the Crown as a demesnial city. The view from the castle towers is stupendous. Though both castles have been modified somewhat over the centuries, they still have that distinctively medieval character one expects of such fortresses. (Pepoli Castle is now a hotel.)
The town is by no means overlooked by the annals of history. Strabo, Pliny and Tacitus wrote of it. Thucydides mentions the Elymians of Eryx and Egesta (Segesta). In 406 BC, an important sea battle took place in the nearby waters between fleets of Carthage and a Syracuse, with the latter winning. Later, in the First Punic War, Eryx fell to the Carthaginians, and in 260 BC Hamilcar destroyed it. It was much contested by Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans, then reached by the Arabs in the chaotic years following 827 as part of their drive toward Palermo and other parts of western Sicily. Writing in the twelfth century, the Arab geographer Idrisi observed that the women in this town were among the most beautiful in Sicily. Later, Ibn Jubayr also wrote about it.









Erice, Pepoli castle
Erice, Cathedral
Erice, cableway
Landscape of Erice
Erice, sunset
Erice, the Mother church at the Trapani gate
Erice, normann castle
Erice, touristic shop
Erice, via Vittorio Emmanuele
Erice, history steps
Erice, gorgeous point of view
Erice, medioeval arch