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Erice

Erice

Brief

Erice is located on top of Mount Erice, at around 750 meters (2,460 ft) above sea level, overlooking the city of Trapani, the low western coast towards Marsala, the dramatic Punta del Saraceno and Capo San Vito to the north-east, and the Aegadian Islands on Sicily’s north-western coast, providing spectacular views. In the northeastern portion of the city there are the remains of ancientElymian and Phoenician walls indicating different stages of settlement and occupation in antiquity. There are two castles that remain in the city: Pepoli Castle, which dates fromSaracen times, and the Venus Castle, dating from the Norman period, built on top of the ancient Temple of Venus, where Venus Ericina was worshipped. According to legend, the temple was founded byAeneas. It was well known throughout the Mediterranean area in the ancient age, and an important cult was celebrated in it. In his book On the Nature of Animals, Aelian writes that animals chosen for sacrifice would voluntarily walk up to the altar to be killed.

A cable car (funivia) runs from the outskirts of Trapani to the town of Erice. The cablecar closes from mid January to mid March.

History

Its origins are very ancient and mysterious, wrapped in legend. On the peak there was a temple, dedicated to a female divinity of fertile nature. She was always highly venerated by all Mediterranean peoples and her main concern was to protect sailors, who from distance saw the fire that burnt in the sacred edifice and also gave them their bearings. Soon a powerful fortress was built there, fought over by Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans. It was destroyed by the Carthaginians in 260 B.C. and the inhabitants were taken to Trapani. In the Roman epoch the old fortress was of little importance. Not so the temple, which indeed was set at the head of a religious confederation of seventeen Sicilian towns and permanently defended by a garrison. There are no further notices of the town and shrine until the Arab epoch, when it reappears with the name Gebel-Hamed. During the Norman domination and in subsequent centuries, Erice got the look that has come down to us and is its main attraction. All gathered in a triangular perimeter, it is one of the most singular little towns in Sicily. The narrow cobbled streets, the small squares, the tiny flower-filled courtyards, rich handicraft comprising ceramics, confectionery and carpets, make it a mecca not to be missed on any excursion in the area of Trapani.

 

The Cathedral was built in the second half of the fourteenth century and was dedicated to the Virgin of the Assumption. It is preceded by an imposing isolated campanile, originally a watchtower. In the fifteenth century a rectangular portico on four ogival arches was added to the façade. The interior shows an hybrid Gothic style, on account of modifications made in 1865. In it there are numerous paintings, sculptures and other artistic objects attributed to well-known Sicilian artists, such as Laurana and Mancino.

 

There is a castle which stands on the ruins of the ancient temple of Venus. There are remains of it from the fifth to seventh centuries B.C., on a high isolated rock which in ancient times people got to on a drawbridge. lt was rendered impregnable by the Normans, who added walls with battlements. At the start of this century some drums of columns and fragments of cornices from the temple were found; they date from the Roman modification. Later, remains of a mosaic floor were also found. Around the castle there are the Balio gardens, which are magnificent for their terrace arrangement and the variety of plants grown there. They take their name from the Norman governor (“Bajulo”) who resided in the adjacent castle. The medieval towers are the outpost of the Castle of Venus, to which they were joined by imposing walls. They were partially reconstructed in the middle of the last century at the behest of Count Pepoli, who also built the little Pepoli Tower, a manneristic construction in a vaguely Moorish style.