Erice, city of the goddess Venus
One of Sicily's most enchanting locations, Erice is like an eagle's nest from which you can enjoy magnificent views over vast areas of the island as far as the Egadi archipelago and the Tunisian coast.
Perched on a cliff 750 metres above sea level, its curious triangular perimeter preserves not only monuments and mediaeval churches of great worth, but also a contemporary art centre and a prestigious scientific institution.
Erice is a jewel of art and culture with a thousand-year history, that deserves to be visited at least once in a lifetime.
A treasure chest of artistic and archaeological treasures
The origins of Erice are very ancient and can be traced back to the Elymian people; it was founded by the union of the local population with Trojan exiles.
Beyond the myth of its foundation, Erice was also known to the Romans due to a sanctuary built on a steep cliff, dedicated to the worship of the Greek goddess Aphrodite and the Roman goddess of fertility and love, Venus Ericina, where sacred prostitution was practised.
To erase that pagan symbol, a thousand years later, the Norman princes of Altavilla had a manor built, which is still called the Castle of Venus: inside, you can visit an exhibition of archaeological finds from the Archaic to the Norman age.
From the castle, through the Balio garden, one enters the elegant mediaeval old town with its carpet-like stone pavement and narrow alleyways, because space within the walls has always been scarce. Here, you must see the church of San Giovanni Battista with its round dome and Norman Gothic portal, the Antonino Cordici museum in the former convent of San Francesco where, among the finds from the Erice necropolis, a head of Aphrodite from the 4th century BC is on display; and the museum of contemporary art La Salerniana in the former convent of San Carlo.
Continuing towards Piazza Umberto you will find the Centro per la Cultura Scientifica Majorana (Majorana Centre for Scientific Culture) in the former monastery of San Pietro, which hosts symposia and conferences on various scientific disciplines every year.
Towards Porta Trapani is the elegant Piazza Matrice with the 14th-century Cathedral of Erice, with a Gothic pronaos and portal and, inside, majestic naves with pointed arches. The nine Greek marble crosses on the south wall were hung in 1685 and also come from the temple of Venus, whose cult is believed to have been still practised at that time.
Beyond the Porta del Carmine along Via dell'Addolorata you come to the so-called Quartiere Spagnolo, which is not a real quarter but a building, that was supposed to house Spanish troops but remained unfinished. Today it is home to permanent exhibitions on Erice and the territory. The view from its terrace will leave you breathless.
Trekking on Mount Erice
The amenity of the place is such that you will yearn to explore the territory of Mount Erice. To do so, there are the Agro Ericino trails, various trekking routes that start mostly from the arrival of the funicular railway from Trapani to cross the state forest, or to discover the three rock churches scattered around the mountain. Above Erice, there is also a CAI (Club Alpino Italiano - Italian Alpine Club) hut, to explore the area and also go to Mount Cofano and San Vito Lo Capo.
Genovesi and martorana fruit: discovering traditional sweets
If you have worked up an appetite on your walk, there is no shortage of patisseries in Erice. The town has a strong tradition of sweets whose recipes are said to have been handed down by the nuns of the cloistered monasteries of Erice.
The most typical are the genovese, a shortcrust pastry morsel filled with cream that is eaten while still warm; mustazzoli, aromatic biscuits made of hard, crunchy pastry; ripostetti, filled with citron conserve and decorated with pastel-coloured icing; almond morsels, quaresimali and martorana fruit.
The most renowned pastry shops are those of Maria Grammatico, which also organise cooking classes, and San Carlo, both in the old city centre. The desserts are well matched with a glass of sweet Marsala from the vineyards grown just below Mount Erice.