Marsala, Italy

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Marsala: History

Marsala stands on the extreme western tip of the land of legends, Sicily. Its name is linked to marsala wine and tothe history of our Republic, when - on 11th May 1860 - Garibaldi started his march towardsthe unification of Italy. A stroll along the main shopping street (the cassaro)or a walk outside the city gates, will give you an idea of the resources and beauty of Marsala, the fifth largest city in Sicily with 85,000 inhabitants.So, you will discover a modern,mediterranean city, divided between land and sea; indeed, both are interwovenwith its history until wine became a dominant figure. The Phenicians settled onthe nearby island of Mozia, which is the archaeological treasure in the Lagoon of the Stagnone and was destroyed in 397 B.C. The survivors escaped to the main land and founded Lilybaeum, which then passed under Roman rule. Arabpirates (VIII Century) renamed the town Marsa Allah, from which it takes its present name. Then, came the Normans, the Swabians, the Angevins, who turned Marsala into a flourishing wheat-growing area. The decline of seafaring activiti esbegan with the arrival of the Spanish who closed the Port.The sea became important once again when the English man  John Woodhouse started exporting wine to Liverpool in 1773. This was the birth of marsala wine. So, both sea and land joined together to the advantage of the economy of the town, which soon attracted other merchants. First theEnglish; then the Florio. In 1860Marsala became part of Italian history, when Garibaldi and the Thousand landed in Marsala and were joined bythe local men. The rest is the recent history of a town which wants to cut outits rightful role in the Mediterranean; a role with its own identify, between ancient and modern.Marsala    has   innumerable   tokens    of  the past. Its artistic heritage is vast: sanctuaries, grottos hypogeums,necropolis, Roman baths, shipwrecks and amphorae.The planks of the oldest PunicWarship ever found are on display in the Baglio Anselmi  Museum, which also contains other preciousrecent finds such  as the statues ofVenus Callipige and Isis. The streets, lined by baroque houses, lead thesightseer  to  imposing churches,  monuments, the works ofart in the "Convento del Carmine", the Flemish Tapestries in the museum of the Cathedral and the beautiful affrescoes in the municipal theatre. The Phoenicio-Punic and Roman remains areconcentrated in the old town centre and, overall, on the island of Mozia (SanPantaleo) which was the theatre of many battles. Mozia can be reached by boatin a few minutes and a marble statue of  the young charioteer Alcimedonte can be admired in the museum.
It is enclosed by ancient defense walls and most of the old buildings have been restored. The real heart of the city is Piazza Loggia.  The square is dominated by the Cathedral of St Thomas Becket and Palazzo  VII Aprile (which commemorates the first revolution in the 1800's). Today via XI Maggio cuts the city into two parts.One part is the Spanish Quarter with its "Porta a Mare" the Santuario dell'Addolorata and the church of Purgatory. Piazza San Girolamo and Carmine with its bell-tower. The other part is the Jewish quarter where the 16th  century San Pietro complex  rises and nearby the sanctuary of the Madonnadella Cava, patron of the town.Continuing along via XI Maggio, our eye iscaught by 18th century Palazzo Fici and Porta Nuova. This city gate is the entrance to the archaeological area of Capo Boeo, which contains the RomanStreet (decumano maximo) and the church dedicated to St. John the Baptist,built above the Lilybaeum Sybil's grotto. There is still a fresh - water springin this evocative hypogeum.
Marsala: Landscape

The territory of Marsala is unique in its landscape comprising the enchanting countryside, beaches, the Stagnone and the Phoenician Mozia. The vineyards with their regular lines of vines are the protagonists of the surrounding agricultural land scattered with bagli (rural fortified structures) and the vine producing companies are the protagonists of the access roads to the inhabited centre. But the real protagonist of this landscape is man who has been able to cultivate vineyards as far as the sea and has even cultivated the sea itself, with the salt pans which produce salt, making use of the wind and heat of the sun. The water of the salt pans with their windmills offer spectacular sights, when at sunset they become tinged with red, and the salt pools become pink in colour thanks to the particular archeobatteri alofili (archae), or in the period between June and September when the snow-white accumulations of salt appear. From Capo Boeo and Rakalia, there are stupendous views over the coast, the Egadi islands, of the Stagnone and as far as Mount Erice.


Area of Capo Boeo

Parts of walls of houses, tombs, the remains of the fortifications like the great moat, and pieces of walls are to be found in the urban tissue and document the Punic phase of the city. The area of Capo Boeo holds the most tangible of the traces of the Romans and conserves the remains of a villa (end II century- beginning III century A.D) complete with thermal baths with marvellous mural floors. Under the San Giovanni church there is an ancient hypogeum known as the grotta della Sibilla which is a rare example of transformation into a Christian baptistery (V century A.D.).


Near  the north-western tip of Sicily, south of Trapani and almost opposite Marsala, there is a laguna called the “Stagnone”, separated from the open sea to the west by an island, Isola Lunga. Situated in the centre of the laguna is the island of San Pantaleo, the Motya of Phoenician times, and two other smaller islands, Santa Maria and Scuola. The geographical situation of Motya is similar to that of many other Phoenician settlements: a small island near the coast, surrounded by shallow water, easy to defend and a safe anchorage for their ships. The city, founded at the end of the 8th century B.C., soon became one of the most important Phoenician colonies; thanks to its proximity to Africa it was one of the first obligatory transit routes towards Spain, Sardinia and Central Italy.
The Phoenicians traded with the Greek colonies present in Sicily, but not all their contacts were of a friendly nature, and a series of battles and wars eventually culminated in the destruction of Motya by Dionysius of Syracuse in 397 B.C. The survivors moved on to the nearby Sicilian coast, founding the city of Lilybeo, the present day Marsala. The island, however, was not completely abandoned, as demonstrated by numerous findings from archaeological excavations.
The most important findings from the excavations of Motya may be seen in the Archaeological Museum of the island, created by Joseph Whitaker, who, for all his life, cultivated an amateur but expert interest in the natural sciences, history and archaeology.
At the beginning of this century, Whitaker bought the island and conducted the first systematic archaeological exploration of the city. It is to this man, illustrious member of a rich English family which possessed industries and other commercial interests in Sicily, that we must give the credit for the fundamental impulse he gave towards the study and the divulgation of the archaeological heritage of Motya.

Sea and beaches

As is the rule for a seaside city, it has a tourist port, beaches and well deserving societies and circles which organise important international events and promote, aimed particularly at the young, nautical sports - sailing, kite skiing, canoeing, windsurfing - in the waters of the Stagnone and along the coast and the beaches which have many times been awarded the European blue flag. There are also many discos, pubs, wine cellars and wine bars.

The archipelago of the Stagnone Islands covers an area of 2000 hectares between Punta S. Teodoro and Capo Lilibeo. Its management is entrusted to Provincia Regionale of Trapani. The reserve includes the whole lagoon, separated from the open sea by the isola Grande, with three small islands inside, Mozia, Santa Maria and Schola. It is the biggest lagoon in Sicily and has an environment of enormous naturalistic importance and the landscape is of great suggestion. 
About 3 km North of the historical pier, in Birgi Nivaloro district, the ancient road  connection to the island of Mozia, the so-called “Punic road”, begins under the level of the water. In the coastal area there are a number of schools of windsurf, kite surf, canoeing and sailing, which are a strong attraction for the young sporty tourist. In the waters of the Stagnone tourist fishing is also practiced.

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