Marsala, on the westernmost point of Sicily!
Marsala, being a major strategic town on Sicily’s west coast, became a major base when the Spanish conquered Italy. It has a very southern-Spanish feel. The houses have exciting balconies that reminded me of the beautiful ones you see in Seville.
Marsala Cathedral is dedicated to Saint Thomas a Beckett. Before his murder in Canterbury Cathedral, he spent years living in Sicily during his exile, and was adored by the Sicilians. The first statue erected after his death was – and still is – in Palermo Cathedral.
The Normans of Sicily built a church on this site in his honour but it seems to have been cursed because it just kept falling down.
The Spanish decided to start from scratch and build a cathedral instead. A major part of the financing was donated by rich citizens, but the bad luck continued. Why did the place keep getting knocked down? The latest “unfortunate architectural incident” was bombing in WW2 and they still haven’t finished repairing it from that.
The Marsala area was home not only to Marsala fortified wine – invented by wealthy English businessman John Woodhouse – but also to many refineries which farmed salt from the sea.
Its perfect grape-growing soil and potential for making sea salt meant it was one of the first areas of Sicily to be built up and to develop these industries, under the hands of the Phoenicians from modern-day Tunisia many centuries before Christ.
You enter Marsala via a splendid Renaissance gateway called the Porta Nuova with the town crest above it. This eagle looks a lot like the town crest of Palermo….
The sea is ever-present, and you see it at the end of he street many a time as you wander about.
The Baroque churches are many and remarkable. This is the church of the bleeding heart.
Whilst this is the church of purgatory.
Notice the dead straight, broad roads – a major characteristic of Baroque towns in Sicily and a reaction against the tiny, twisting medieval alleyways. How did those clever baroque town planners know their descendents would invent motor cars and not want their wing mirrors knocked off?
There were some beautiful gardens overlooking the sea where the locals liked to walk about for their indispensable Italian passeggiata at 6pm.
For the younger generation, the purpose of this is to show off your new clothes and flirt with the opposite sex. For the older folk, the idea is to get your digestive system stimulated before dinner.
And of course, you have to walk up and down the main drag looking out for people you know.
If you cannot find anyone, a sunset over the sea is just as satisfying.