The medieval city of Erice sits on a hill high above the Trapani coast, about 2,400 feet above sea level. It can be reached by funicular from Trapani or you can take one of two roads that wind up the side of the mountain.
Erice has a mythological background – Eryx, the son of Aphrodite and Poseidon was the founder of the town, and was once the seat of the cult of the fertility goddess Venus Erycina. Erice has even been called many other things – Eryx, Gebel-Hamed by the Arabs, Monte San Giuliano under the Normans, and only recently (1934) called Erice by Mussolini.
Though the town is not tiny (28,000 people), stepping inside the walled portion of the city feels a bit like stepping back in time. Narrow streets, cobblestones and touristic paths wind through the city. We actually took a “backroads” path toward the Castello Venere and avoided most of the crush.
The Chiesa Matrice, close to the Porta Trapani of the city, was constructed in the 14th century and is reported to have been constructed with materials from the Venus temple. There were so many churches in this tiny town that they literally popped out at you from the side streets.
On a clear day, they say you can see as far as Tunisia, but if you remember, we were there during the many fires in Sicily this summer and our view was limited. But I can imagine, and our view took my breath away just the same.
We went inside the Norman Castello Venere, which was little more than floorplan ruins and some darkened cellars, but with a small donation we were able to get even more spectacular views and find a little shade as we wandered around inside the open castle structure.
If you’re thinking this next castle looks very well-maintained, you’re right. The Castello di Pepoli was most recently refurbished to be a villa/bed & breakfast called Resort Torri Pepoli, or you can partake of an aperitivo in their outside garden terrace.
What fascinated me most was the little Toretta di Pepoli, the little Pepoli tower below the main castle. To the eye, there was no discernible way to reach the little castle, and we imagined all sorts of backstories for the tower and its use of imprisonment and/or seclusion of a past nobleman or woman.
The little tower was built by the Count Agostino Pepoli between 1872 and 1880, and it appears that the city of Erice is going to give it some attention as they just announced a plan to restore it and use it for cultural events. The question remains – how will the people reach it?
I love how both of these castles come straight out of the rock, to the point that you can’t tell where one ends and one begins. Perhaps the rock, once mastered, is overtaking the castles now.
A trip to Erice couldn’t be complete without a visit to the Antica Pasticceria del Convento (Via G. Fillippo Guarnotti). The story goes that the nuns adopted a small girl, and after she left the convent, she started to make these “Genovesi” which the nuns had made. They are filled with a pastry cream and sprinkled with powdered sugar. We also took home a little tray of pasticcini, little pastries for an aperitivo that night.
I plan on heading back to Erice soon to get that view that was promised me.