The town of Erice keeps intact the structure assumed in the Middle Ages: the streets, houses and all buildings are all within the characteristic triangular perimeter, so as to trace this conformation to the cult of fertility, symbolized in ancient times by the goddess Aphrodite.
The mighty walls, still in excellent condition, especially on the north-west side, date back to different periods: the lower part is even of the Phoenician period, while the upper one is due to the Normans, who opened the three doors now present (Sword, Carmine and Trapani). Corso Vittorio Emanuele is the most important road axis of Erice: it is not conceivable to arrive at Erice by car, rather you can leave in the large parking lots outside the city, or you can opt for the cable car or the courier.
The Museums of Erice
The A. Cordici Civic Museum of Erice is organized inside the Town Hall on the elegant Piazza Umberto I. Here is preserved the beautiful marble work of the Annunciation, as well as archaeological finds of great value: the marble head of Aphrodite, IV BC and the pintadera, an object used in antiquity to obtain ornamental moulds on leather fabrics. To these are added other objects found along all the slopes of Mount Erice: bronzes, terracotta tools, glass and coins from various eras, ranging from the Carthaginian period to the late Roman period. The first floor of the palace also houses the Municipal Library, with over 20,000 volumes and 300 manuscripts.
The Museo Agro-Forestale San Matteo, a few kilometers from the center of Erice, is for nature lovers a further stage of interest. Located within the forest domain, it includes a rich collection of flora and fauna characteristic of the Erice area, as well as a series of ancient agricultural tools and an oil mill, a place for the production of oil.
The Malacological Museum, about 1 km from Erice, is located in premises adjacent to a former seventeenth-century church. Inside there are rich collections of crustaceans, echinoderms, shells and marine fossils dating back to prehistoric times.
THE HISTORY OF ERICE
The foundation of the city of Erice should have been made by the Elymians, an indigenous population that welcomed among its people the exiles of Troy. However, near today’s city have been found traces of prehistoric settlements prior to its construction that suggest that the characteristics of the territory were well appreciated since ancient times.
A sacred city in ancient times, on the top of the Mount was built the famous temple of Aphrodite, goddess of fertility and protector of sailors (Venus Ericina for the Romans). The city was not only a place of worship, but also a place of transgression: the beautiful priestesses of the Goddess were easily granted in exchange for offerings addressed to the Goddess, giving rise to practices similar to today’s prostitution.
Eryx, one of the most important fortresses in Sicily, was lost and regained by Carthaginian troops fighting against Syracuse: the population was deported to Drepano (now Trapani) and the city, including the sacred temple, razed to the ground. Conquered by the Romans, it lost the political-administrative importance it enjoyed in ancient times.
The Arabs arrived in Erice in 831, renaming it Gebel-Hamed (The Mountain of Mohammed). But it was only with the Normans that the city managed to return to its former glory: the walls were reinforced, the castle was built, the urban layout was reorganized and magnificent palaces and churches were built. Called Monte San Giuliano by Count Roger (legend has it that St. Julian appeared to him in a dream during the siege), the city maintained all its beauty and much of its relevance throughout the modern era. It was called Erice again in 1934 at the behest of Mussolini, in memory of the ancient Roman era, a period of inspiration for the entire fascist movement.
Since 1963 Erice has been famous for being the seat of the Ettore Majorana Centre for Scientific Culture, a prestigious scientific organisation for the study of planetary emergencies, an organisation set up by the international physicist and now its president, Antonino Zichici.
YOU’RE COMING OUT OF THE NIGHT
The evenings in Erice are fun and relaxing, romantic and adventurous. The atmosphere, magical as a whole, is ideal to spend an evening around the city, and then overlook the wonderful panorama that Erice can boast. Erice welcomes thousands of tourists in its many pubs and clubs, perfect places to drink, dance and make new acquaintances.
For gourmets, the choice is varied and all of excellent quality: among the narrow streets of the city, there are excellent restaurants serving delicious dishes of Trapani cuisine.
All this in an incredible location steeped in history, which you will not find anywhere else in the Mediterranean.