Marsala, the town of wine and salt
Marsala is the name of a town, and also a wine. Both are elegant and rich in history.
The town is enclosed within the ramparts of the 16th century, when it experienced its own Renaissance that enriched it with palaces, churches and monasteries.
Wine is the product that made it world-famous, thanks partly to the vision of an English merchant who adapted it to British tastes.
In the beautiful old town you can visit the vestiges of its past, as well as the historic wine cellars that uphold the prestige of its finest product, while on the coast salt is produced in the spectacular salt pans.
Amid Baroque and nature
Those who approach from Porta Nuova are greeted by a string of beautiful Renaissance and Baroque buildings, such as the Monastery of San Pietro, which houses the Civic Museum, with an archaeological section and an area dedicated to the Risorgimento. Garibaldi and the Thousand landed at Marsala to accomplish the feat of the Unification of Italy.
A little further on you come to Piazza della Repubblica, Marsala's gathering place, with the beautiful Palazzo VII Aprile with its clock tower and Baroque cathedral - although the façade was not actually completed until 1956. Next door is the Tapestry Museum, where eight Flemish tapestries, a gift from a Spanish king, are on display. A few steps away is the Convento del Carmine, now the Museum of Contemporary Painting, with works by various Italian artists including Cassinari, Maccari, Marchegiani, Pomodoro, Sassu, Sironi, as well as temporary exhibitions.
To immerse yourself in Marsala's more ancient past, visit the Baglio Anselmi Archaeological Museum, in the building of a former winery on the seafront. Several artefacts are on display, recounting the foundation of the city (then called Lilybaeum) by exiles from the Phoenician colony on the island of Mothia.
Don't miss the wreck of a Punic ship that was probably shipwrecked during the battle of the Egadi Islands in the First Punic War; it is located off the Isola Lunga near Punta Scario. There are also Roman mosaics and an extraordinary collection of amphorae documenting trade in antiquity. The museum visit is completed in the Archaeological Park with the Roman Insula, the site of a large Roman villa from the 3rd century AD with baths, cisterns and the remains of an early Christian necropolis.
The bustling hub of Marsala is its central Fish Market, which has recently been renovated. By day, it is the place where the catch from the Stagnone and the Strait of Sicily comes in, and by night, it is the centre of nightlife where you can dine and stay up late.
The Marsala wine that pleased the English
Wine has always been produced in Marsala, since Phoenician times, but it was towards the end of the 18th century that an English merchant, John Woodhouse, sent a few barrels of local wine to England to be tasted by his customers, adding, however, a dose of brandy so that the wine would not spoil during the voyage.
This is how the Marsala we know today was born, a liqueur wine much appreciated by the English who imported it in great quantities from then on, making the fortune of local producers: Florio, Rallo, Donnafugata, Pellegrino, whose historic cellars are still located in the centre of Marsala.
The Stagnone Reserve and Mozia
The Stagnone Reserve is a lagoon to the north of Marsala, two-thousand hectares of shallow and very salty waters with four islands: the Big Island, which acts as a barrier to the lagoon, the island of Santa Maria, a strip of land, the Schola (meaning “school”), because in Roman times it housed a school of rhetoric, where Cicero is said to have taught when he was quaestor of the city of Lilybaetano, and Mothia (Mozia), an island on which a Phoenician city stood from the 8th century BC, which ancient sources describe as rich in beautiful palaces, one of the most important trading bases in the Mediterranean antiquity.
Conquered by Dionysius of Syracuse, Mothia was destroyed in 397 B.C. and never rebuilt, so its ruins are “intact”, with no overlays - a true paradise for archaeologists. The survivors in fact founded Lilybaeum, present-day Marsala.
The island of Mozia now belongs to the Whitaker Foundation, an English wine producer which bought it and started excavations in the early 20th century, and it is open for visits.
The salt pans of Marsala and the windmills
On the coast to the north of the city, overlooking the Stagnone, are the Salt Pans of the Marsala Ettore and Infersa Lagoon, one of the most spectacular places on the west coast of Sicily, with stretches of water that take on different colours depending on the season, against which you can see the outlines of windmills surrounded by mounds of white salt.
It is a place that is not only very poetic and picturesque, but also of great historical and environmental interest, structured to give visitors the all-round salt experience: here one can take walks along the salt pans, visit mills that are still in operation, enjoy tastings, manually harvest salt with the salt workers and dive into pools that are not in production, but still fed by the hydraulic circuit, where one can float in salt solutions with different concentrations and lie on the salt crust.