Erice Sicily is a small town situated on top of a mountain in northwestern Sicily. Surrounded by winegrowing cultures and full of history, this little town will surprise you with its breathtaking panorama and the enchanting 700 years old village. Perfect for its position and known for its beauty, Erice Sicily has always been a leading actor not only in the island’s history but also in its mythology. And next time you have a chance, make sure to come to visit this amazing place.
Erice Sicily, just a panoramic spot or much more?
Erice Sicily situated on top of Mount Erice at more than 750 meters above sea level, has overlooked the coast below for thousands of years and has been considered a strategic point since the Troyan exiles made it their home for the first time. The medieval hamlet is accessible from Trapani by a twisty road or in alternative, by the panoramic cable car that in about 10 minutes leads you at the entrance gate of the town. The first thing you meet will be the huge neo-gothic cathedral, dedicated to Mary of Assumption, and its 28-meters-high bell tower.
Erice Sicily is today one of the most interesting and important tourist attraction of Western Sicily, along with the nearby San Vito lo Capo and Segesta. Here the panorama is breathtaking, with the peculiar shape of Trapani’s coast, the water so crystalline and beautiful it has received numerous awards through the years and the Aegadian Islands visible in all their glory, it has been the favourite spot of tourists and Sicilians to enjoy one of the most incredible panoramas Sicily offers.
Iruka for Elymians, Erech for Carthaginians, and Eryx for Greeks and Romans, the origins of Erice Sicily trace back to more than three thousand years ago. Used as a lookout tower watching the Mediterranean and known for its wine, this place has seen populations coming and going for thousands of years. Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spaniards all looked at Erice Sicily as a perfect spot to establish their dominance.
Founded by Trojans, the city was then conquered by Romans in 224 BC. Vergilius made it famous worldwide in its Aeneid, where he narrated the story of King Eryx that, defeated by the incredible Hercules, was then buried in a temple dedicated to his own mother, Aphrodite.
The cult of Aphrodite, though, was not entirely new to Erice Sicily, the female goddess of fertility was already worshipped with different names, Astare for the Elymiand and Tanit for the Carthaginians, the Aphrodite’s cult evolved into the Venus Erycina cult that made its way in the Roman Pantheon. The town was then forgotten for centuries when the Arabs conquered Sicily, and most likely nobody lived in Erice Sicily Mountain until the new domination came along.
Only when the Normans finally spread through Sicily, Erice became again a lively town, with new churches and buildings, where the famous Venus Castle was built under the reign of Norman Sicily King, Roger II. It was during the Sicilian Vespers that the town really became the protagonist. Used as a fortress by Frederick III of Aragon, Erice Sicily and its castle played a major role in the Sicilian War against the Angevins.
It was under the Spanish domination that the town grew and prospered and many of the elegant buildings that we can still see today reveal just how refined and opulent the population living there really was. And if we hopped on a time machine and went back to those magnificent times, we could see that the town and its population haven’t really changed, the same beautiful buildings and the same refined population lives here, over the top of a mountain that defies the laws of time.
Erice Castle, a testament of a timeless city
Sicily is known for its beautiful sea and its food, but also for its many castles, many of which we have mentioned in our post about 10 iconic Sicilian castles, and Venus Castle Erice is one of the most interesting ones.
Built by the Normans in the XII century, it takes its name from the temple dedicated to Venus the castle was built over. During a campaign against the pagan religions that were still popular in Sicily when they arrived, the Normans tried to eradicate the Venus cult that characterised the place, destroying the temple. With the materials remaining they built a castle, for which now the city is mostly known for.
The access to the inexpugnable Venus Castle Erice was once granted by a drawbridge that today does not exist anymore, a ramp of stairs instead leads us inside the citadel. Surrounded by towers adorned with Ghibelline battlements, a beautiful English garden situated inside the citadel allows us to see a breathtaking view of the surrounding area.
Over the entrance gates, the Asburg’s crest watches over us, while a magnificent mullioned window of the XIII century lies over the crest, adorning the frontal facade of the castle. On the inside, not much is left of its original decorations, but we can still find archaeological remains of the archaic and Roman period, such as the Roman baths, the Venus well, the Dedalus wall and the medieval tunnel. Erice Castle is full of surprises and just like the city it dominates, is frozen in time.
A visit to today’s Erice Sicily is just like a visit to medieval Erice. The small city has been able to preserve its historical centre for centuries, and to this day it has still more than 60 churches. Whether you prefer enjoying the beauty of its antique architecture or you prefer losing yourself in the maze of alleys filled with craft shops and typical pastries –don’t miss the delicious Genovese!- Erice Sicily won’t disappoint you. Visiting Western Sicily you can’t give up on Palermo & Trapani, so a 3 days-itinerary that also includes Erice Sicily is really a must-do.