Because of its strategic position in the western part of Sicily about one hour from Palermo, Marsala was dominated by many cultures over the centuries.
Built on the ruins of the ancient Punic city of Lilybeo, in the third century BC, it was conquered by the Romans and became part of their empire. With the end of the Roman Empire the city was annexed by Byzantium but in the seventh century it was conquered by Arab pirates who destroyed the old city and renamed it “Marsa Allah” (Port of God) hence the name of Marsala.
Marsala was subsequently conquered by the Normans, the Swabians and the Spanish.
The Wine Road
In 1575 , when the Spaniards closed the port to make more difficult the invasions of the pirates, all the activities and economy related to the sea decreased and in their place agricultural activities such as viticulture began to develop. Till today the Marsala area has the largest surface planted with grapes of Italy. The Marsala wine is well known throughout the world, its popularity started when John Woodhouse a merchant from Liverpool started to export and trade it. Till today moving from Marsala in the direction of Mazara del Vallo, is still possible to see the factories in which the British and Florio Family produced the wine and where the old winemaking traditions are still used . Some of these historical cellars can be visited by appointment and make a great part of any Italy wine tour.
Over the centuries manufacturing techniques have evolved, but there are still several local wineries where the owners have not forgotten the values and the traditions of the past and where is possible they still trying to preserve them. We suggest a visit to one of the many local “Baglio” (farm) in the area, where there are still preserved carefully all the tools of the Sicilian country life. One of the most beautiful is the Baglio Biesina of the early ’900. Inside was made the ethno-anthropological museum of Rural Life, divided according to “cycles” that illustrate the various productive activities of rural life and everything related to the production of wine, olive oil and dairy products.
It is very interesting to visit the small underground storage where the finest wines are aged with the “Solera” process . This method of aging wines consists of filling several barrels and transferring the wines during intervals from the youngest to the oldest. The wine is tapped from the oldest barrel and the youngest container or barrel is always refilled with new wine. None of the barrels are ever drained.
The Salt Road
Moving from Marsala in the direction of Trapani drive along the lagoon of” Stagnone” to admire the windmills and tanks in which the water slowly dries to leave out the salt. We suggest to drive along the ponds and the white mountains of salt on the late afternoon when the sunset create reflections of extraordinary beauty.
But Marsala is not only wine and nature; a visit to this nice Sicilian town will surprise you also for its art, monuments, lifestyle and the good food. We suggested to start from Porta Garibaldi to celebrate, the famous hero of two worlds, that started his feat to unify Italy landed in Marsala with his army on May 11, 1860. Continue with a walk through the fish market the Spanish military quarter and Tapestry museum on via Garrraffa and arrive in to the historical center with its churches, palaces , and squares in the Baroque style . Piazza della Repubblica is the main square of Marsala, because of the location and because it is surrounded by the “ Chiesa Madre” (cathedral), the Palazzo VII Aprile and the complex of S. Peter. Palazzo VII Aprile is definitely the main palace of Marsala, with its façade inspired to the Basilica of Palladio in Vicenza, which echoes the motif of the windows in two orders, the development in the horizontal direction and the crowning balustrade decorated with vases. Inside the Hall of tombstones, are walled numerous commemorative inscriptions recalling the highlights of the city’s history. Marsala is a great addition to a Sicily tour. It offers scenery, and an experience of culture and great food it would be one of the places to visit in Sicily to add on your Italy Vacations.