• Jenny

Top 10 Things to do in Marsala, Sicily

Sunset over the Marsala Salt Fields

Marsala is internationally known for the sweet wine that bears its name, but what else is there to do here besides drink wine? Believe me, this beautiful city on Sicily’s western coast has a charm and history that will draw you in and leave you wanting more! Ancient churches, archeological ruins, Punic shipwrecks and underwater roads, a lagoon with pink colored water and fields of Mediterranean Sea Salt. This little gem of a town is best summarized by the words found on its own website:

“a Mediterranean city divided between sea and land...finding its natural synthesis in wine.”

Similar to most of Sicily, Marsala has been influenced by the many groups of people who have lived here throughout its history. The Phoenicians settled in the area as early as the 4th century BC and left us many archeological treasures. The Arabs left their mark as well, most obviously with the modern name of the city. Marsala originates from the Arabic words “Marsa” and “Allah”, which mean “port of God”. The port here is certainly blessed, because the sunsets over the lagoon are nothing less than heaven sent.

Boats in the Stagnone Lagoon, with the Egadi Islands in the background

Marsala thrived for centuries as a major sea port under Phoenician and Greek rule, and flourished as an agricultural center under the Normans, but really found its proverbial place on the map when an English merchant decided to send some of the local wine back to Liverpool in the year 1773. Looking for a way to prevent the wine from spoiling on the voyage, it was fortified with alcohol; and the rest is history!

A visit to Marsala is perfectly spent as slowly as possible. This is not a place for hurried sightseeing or action packed travel. Marsala is a city best enjoyed by pressing the pause button and immersing yourself in the history, the food, the wine, and the salty sea air. Let’s explore Marsala together with this top 10 list of what to see and do!

1. Explore the city center

Meander though the crooked streets of Marsala’s historic center, where you’ll discover ancient churches, a 16th century monastery, towering city gates, picturesque piazzas, and street side cafes tempting you around every corner. Window shop along the Cassaro, the city center’s main street, whose name is derived from the Arabic word al-Qasru meaning “the castle”. This street certainly looks royal, paved with marble stones set alongside ornately designed buildings. You can just imagine the princes and nobles of old walking through the streets with their flowing robes.

Baroque architecture is found throughout the city center, especially on churches
Eating breakfast along a marble paved street!
The red dome of classic Arabic building style can be seen behind the ruins of a Roman palace

As you explore the city center, take note of the varying architectural styles. Although there are traces of Phoenician ruins, the ancient city was all but destroyed around 400 BC. Rebuilt and fortified by stone walls, they city has been invaded many times over the centuries, by the Romans, the Arabs, and the Normans. Even more recently, during the Landing of the Thousand in 1860 when General Giuseppe Garibaldi led the invasion to unify Italy, and finally during World War II when Marsala suffered intense damage from Allied bombing. Modern day Marsala is a testament to resilience, and it bears the scars of its history.

2. Visit the Cathedral and Benedictine Monastery

The Chiesa Madre, or Mother Church of Marsala, stands in all of its Baroque glory at the center of the Piazza della Repubblica in the heart of the city center. Dedicated to Saint Thomas of Canterbury, the Norman era cathedral was built on the ruins of a previous church that had been destroyed during the Arab raids on the city. You can find a painting depicting the martyrdom of Saint Thomas in the apse of the church, along with many other beautiful paintings and historic relics.

The Chiesa Madre is the centerpiece of Marsala's main piazza

Across the piazza from the cathedral sits a Benedictine monastery dating back to the year 1516, built on the ruins of a thousand year old building that was once the center of the Jewish quarter of Marsala. Much of the building was damaged during the bombings of the Second World War, but it is now beautifully restored and houses a complex of small museums. Along with a museum dedicated to General Garibaldi’s campaign to conquer the kingdom of the Two Sicilies, there are collections of archaeological finds, the city’s Easter Thursday parade, and the Marsala Museo dei Pupi, a puppet museum with locally designed puppets and their theatrical stages.

3. Take a stroll along the Lungomare Boeo

After exploring the city center, make your way through the Porta Garibaldi and head straight for the sea. Here you’ll find the Monumento ai Mille, a war memorial dedicated to the thousand men who landed with General Garibaldi in 1860. From here, take a leisurely walk along the brick sidewalk that follows the Lungomare Boeo, or seafront, and take in the rocky coastline and beautiful blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

Take in all the views along the Lungomare

4. Learn about Marsala’s history at the Archeological Museums

During your walk along the Lungomare, take a break from the heat and stop inside the Parco Archeologico Lilibeo and Museo Archeologico Baglio Anselmi. This pair of museums has an incredible collection of artifacts dating as far back as the Carthaginian times of the 4th century BC! Although the museum is chalk full of gold jewelry, Greek pottery, Roman statues and , the highlight of the tour is undoubtedly the remains of a Punic warship recovered off the coast, which they have been able to partially reconstruct inside the museum.