Set up high on a cliff top with spectacular views across the Mediterranean to even as far as Tunisia on a clear day, Erice is a fairytale medieval town that is still shrouded in mystery.
If you pay close attention to one of the legends, you’ll hear that Erice was named after the mythological Eryx, the son of Aphrodite and Butes, who founded the island more than 3000 years ago and became its king until he was vanquished by Hercules.
Today if you wander along the winding ancient streets, passing through the narrow archways and under flower clad balconies, there’s a sense of history in the air and maybe you’ll catch a whisper of other legends.
How about the secrets hidden by the Castello di Venere, the domineering twelfth century castle which has become the symbol of Erice. It was built by the Normans on the sacred site and even using materials from the Temple of Venus after which it was named. This was a landmark that the Normans wanted to remove from their landscape as they introduced christianity onto the island … you see in times of antiquity this temple enjoyed quite a reputation and made Erice a Mediterranean hotspot for sailors who had come to seek out the goddess of love. Their frequent journeys made Erice an important and wealthy city. Today only the legend remains as stories are passed down from one generation to the next.
The Normans must have succeeded in their quest to spread Christianity because Erice is famed for its numerous churches and is known as the ‘city with one hundred churches.’ Probably the most important is the Chiesa Matrice which dates back to the 14th century, adjacent to which is the mighty campanile or bell tower. A somewhat perilously steep climb will take you to the top and those who venture here are rewarded with spectacular views over the surrounding area. Who knows, this was once possibly a watch tower for the Sicilians to keep an eye on any potential invaders who came along frequently to this fought over island.
At the heart of Erice is the town square, Piazza Umberto I which is a great place to rest and soak up the atmosphere of this delightful town. Of course you can’t pass by the wonderful pasticceria filled with mouth watering pastries, without being tempted to enter. There is Maria Grammatico’s famous pastry shop in Vittorio Emanuele which opened in 1950 and has become legendary due to the owner’s book ‘Bitter Almonds’ which tells the stories of her childhood in a convent and the recipes she learned. There are so many delicacies to choose from: marzipan sweets decorated like lace, almond liqueur cookies, Genovesi Ericine which are filled with hot custard and sprinkled with sugar or cassatella which resemble fried dumplings filled with ricotta and powdered with cinnamon and sugar. Wash them down with some fresh Italian coffee, iced or hot or why not try the Monte Erice local liquor which is famous for its green color. There are so many new things to try!
At the end of the day as you prepare to head back down to Trapani, if the weather is favorable, take a quiet moment to enjoy the breathtaking sunset and savor the memories of an unforgettable day in Erice.
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