Today we explored Trapani, (pop. 68,000), a small town which sits on the edge of western Sicily, occupied by Spain from 1282 until 1860. Once populated by numerous Spanish aristocrats whose palaces and private churches line Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle and Via Garibaldi, the old town juts out into the Tyrrhenian Sea on three sides. The wind is pretty strong and so is the sunshine, it feels almost as if you are out to sea with water any which way you look.
Trapani today has this look of sad melancholy, an old town which went through periods of boom and bust and now is experiencing a new boom, thanks of giant cruise ships stopping here daily. The town has gentrified itself in some parts, but other parts are still waiting for renovation. The old streets are narrow like that of an North African Kasbah allowing only a donkey or pedestrians to pass.
Trapani is a fishing port, known for its excellent fish and sea food, some of the best fish in the whole of the Mediterranean can be found here in its restaurants, not to mention good quality sardines and blood red tuna a local specialty. Sea Salt production is the other industry. Sicily also boast a large variety of wines, many of high quality, the enotecas allow you to discover many wonderful wines including the sweet wines like the Passita.
Today we visited in the decommissioned church of St-Agostino an exhibit on a local tradition, the Misteri, they are statues created by local craftsmen and artisans representing the different actors in the stations in the Passion of Christ and carried around town during Easter week in day long processions.
I often wondered about those statues, they are life size and are mounted on altars surrounded by long processional candles. The exhibit showed how all this is made and how light it is in reality. The statues head, hands and feet are made of cork wood, very light and easy to sculpt, then covered with papier maché and painted, the rest of the body, clothing etc, is made of canvas shaped and glued and then painted. So what looks like a heavy wood statue is in fact nothing more that a few pieces of cork wood and canvas. It is then mounted on a cart with wheels and pulled by men who belong to a religious confraternity through city streets with marching band and banners, local parish priest and Altarboys.
Many of the churches in Trapani are now permanently closed, many have been abandoned and like the church of the Carmine next to our hotel, it is opened a few hours a day enough to collect a few euros in the hope that maybe they can restore it one day. The churches in Trapani were built in the 16 and 17th century by noble families, employing artists and craftsmen of the time. But nowadays only the Cathedral of San Lorenzo is fully functioning, all other churches have been closed or turned into exhibit space.
Dome of San Lorenzo Cathedral Trapani, with its green majolica tile roof.
One church that did look closed, was in fact opened today, Santa Maria del Soccoro the inside have seen better days but today it was decorated with huge arrangements of white roses placed all over the church, the scent of the roses made the whole building come alive. A wedding was taking place and we arrived just a few minutes prior to the event. It had an air of surreal, old decaying baroque church building of an age gone by, decorated with a multitude of flowers which will last only a day.
We had lunch in a Enoteca-Trattoria on Via Giudecca 32,described as the best in Italy by numerous guides like Michelin and Gambero Rosso and the magazine Saveur, see March 2011 issue. The owner of Cantina Siciliana, Pino Maggiore is charming and very knowledgeable on wines.
We had a wonderful lunch of Sardines in oil which are then breaded and fried, served very hot, it is basically made fresh when you order it. Then I had a freshly made pasta called Busiate di Pesto alla Trapanese, a very local dish, Excellent! See the website www.cantinasiciliana.it
Will had red shrimps ceviche and then Swordfish alla Putanesca in tomatoes and capers. Our Sicilian wine was a dry white called Baaria with a beautiful golden colour.
After the meal we spoke with Pino and asked him to recommend some wines we could purchase and send home. He recommended Baaria, Cutti and Quojane, we did not know the last one, so he opened a bottle for us, wise move as we bought 2 cases of it.
This evening we are going down to Via Carolina which ends literally into the Tyrrhenian Sea without warning, the sun sets at the end of that street over the water. There is a little enoteca called Trapani e Vini and friends recommended it to us. Tomorrow we will visit Erice just 10 Km from Trapani. As I sit here gazing out at the sea through the large window of my room, I imagine that in the distant horizon I see the coast of Spain and Gibraltar.