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Marsala, wine town and landing point of Garibaldi's 1000 men

TOWNS AND CITIES IN SICILY

Villas in Sicily near Marsala >>

MarsalaMarsala is internationally famous for one thing: wine. Its inhabitants, however, while being extremely proud of their amber nectar, are equally enthusiastic about their town’s long, illustrious history.

The present-day name, deriving from the Arabic “Marsa Allah”, meaning “Port of God”, gives us an idea of just how strategically important the town once was. Before the Arabs, however, were the Romans, and before the Romans, the Carthaginians. It was these latter, under Himilco, who built the huge port and unassailable stronghold of Lilibeo in 396BC as a replacement for Motya (or Mozia), which had been destroyed the year before by Dionysus I of Siracusa.

Marsala is internationally famous for one thing: wine. Its inhabitants, however, while being extremely proud of their amber nectar, are equally enthusiastic about their town’s long, illustrious history.

So well built and located was Lilibeo, that when Pyrrhus laid siege to it, he was unable to achieve even a Pyrrhic victory. A little later the Romans had a go, but again with no luck. Finally, it was handed over to Rome in 241BC as part of the peace treaty signed to end the First Punic War. The Romans were not slow to recognise the town’s potential and soon it was a thriving Roman colony with municipal rights and a departure point for trade and empire expansion into Africa. Cicero, who spent time there, described it as a wonderful city.

The Vandals passed through (once again from Carthage), destroying most of what they found. Lilybaeum (its Roman name) retreated from the limelight until the arrival of the Arabs who turned it once more into a thriving port and centre for trade.

A few hundred years later it was the turn of the English, who did not, however, come to conquer, but rather to make wine. The first man on the scene was John Woodhouse, who stumbled across the local wine in 1773. He liked it (and by some accounts drank copious quantities of it!) and thought that it might be popular in his native country. If the wine was to survive the long ocean voyage, however, it would need to be fortified with the addition of alcohol – thus was born Marsala wine. It proved as popular in England as Woodhouse had hoped and he moved permanently to Marsala to begin mass production in 1796. Several other Englishmen followed, including Ingham and Whitaker.

Wine was not the only thing to link England with Marsala, however. The Cathedral, built on the site of an old Norman church, is dedicated to that most famous of English Saints, Thomas Becket.

The next big date on Marsala’s curriculum vitae is 1860, the year in which Garibaldi and his “thousand” landed in the town to begin their unification of Italy. The townsfolk welcomed him with open arms and hundreds of them joined his army as they sped across the island.

Today, Marsala is a pleasant, relaxed place to visit and the lovely, recently restored, mainly Baroque old town centre is pedestrian friendly and easy to walk round.

Most people probably come to take a tour of the wineries and we thoroughly recommend this. There are, however, other things of interest, including the aforementioned Cathedral, the “Baglio Anselmi” Archaeological Museum, complete with a Phoenician boat from the First Punic War and, nearby, the saltpans and nature reserve of Il Stagnone, the fascinating Phoenician island of Mozia and the beautiful Egadi Island archipelago.

Nearby Trapani airport - just 20km from Marsala - has direct flights from, amongst others, Dublin, Birmingham, Luton and Barcellona. Palermo airport is also just 1 hour away. Our villas in the area are, quite simply, stunning and each one offers something unique. Take a look and discover the west!

Villas in Sicily near Marsala >>

 

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See what impressed John Woodhouse so much in 1773 and go wine-tasting at the historic Cantine Florio in Via Florio. Call  0039 0923 781111.

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