Marsala, the Arab “Marsa Allah” (Harbour of God), is known in the whole world for one thing – wine! But the city does not only feature plenty of wines to taste in the town’s bars, enotecas and restaurants, there are also the great surroundings to be explored, wineries and vineyards, and some historic sites. Marsala’s inhabitants are very proud of their town’s long history. As in most of the Sicilian towns they were all here: Cathaginians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Vandals. It were the Arabs who turned the city once again into a trade centre and thriving port. A big day in Marsala’s (and Italy’s) history was 11th of May 1860 when Garibaldi's troops landed in Marsala, and the unification of Italy began. The date went down in Italian history as the “Landing of the Thousand”. Marsala’s huge port was built under the Carthaginians in the year 396 BC. Some 450 years later the Romans recognized the town’s potential, and used it as a point for trading with other Mediterranean peoples, and for some empire expansion into North Africa. It must have been a very beautiful town at these times, Cicero spent some time there and described Marsala as “a wonderful city”. Marsala and its surroundings have been influenced more by the Arabs than by the Normans, unlike Palermo, Monreale and Cefalù.
The Marsala of today is a relaxed and pleasant city to visit, the Arab way of life is still present. It shows in the architecture and in particular in the food. The restored old town centre is very pedestrian friendly, and boasts a Cathedral, a very interesting archaeological museum, the nature reserve “Il Stagnone”, the island of Mozia, and the enchanting little archipelago of the Egadi Islands. The city of Marsala provides good services for travellers with disabilities.
Marsala wine & tastings
In the year 1773 the British merchant John Woodhouse invented the famous Marsala wine. Three years later he returned to Sicily and opened the Baglio Woodhouse beginning the commercialization and mass production of this wine. Learn more about Sicily's wines at our page Wines of Sicily'
Nothing is more easy than a wine tasting in Marsala! You simply have to browse the enotecas, bars and shops in town. During harvest time, which starts end of August and goes until October, it would be also worth heading out of town to visit a winery in Sicily’s largest wine growing region.
Things to do and see in Marsala
Archeological Museum “Baglio Anselmi”
If you want to get an impression of the power and importance of Marsala, and in particular of the island of Mozia at Carthaginian times, you should pay a visit to the archaeological museum. It displays maritime finds, and artefacts and amphorae which were recovered from the museums most impressing exhibit: the wreck of a well-preserved Punic vessel. This warship was found near the Egadi Islands in the mud.
Mother Church of Marsala
Marsala’s largest church is dedicated to Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was murdered by the followers of KIng Henry II of England (if not by the king himself), and soon after his death canonised by Pope Alexander III. King Henry’s daughter preached the cult of Saint Thomas in Sicily, to atone for the sins of her father. But, as usual, the Sicilians have another version: according to legend there was a ship going to England to deliver Corinthian columns for the building of a church in honour of Saint Thomas of Canterbury. The ship had to seek shelter at the port of Marsala due to a storm. The citizens of Marsala thought this a sign of divine will, and built a church which they dedicated to the English saint.
Next to the Mother Church you will find the Museum of the Arazzi which features a collection of 16th century Flemish tapestries – depicting the Jewish-Roman war of the year 66 AD.
The salt pans between Marsala and Trapani are of particular interest for their flora and fauna, since they are a refuge to thousands of migrating birds every year. Worth avisit are the historical salt museum and the salt marshes of Nubia. The Riserva Naturale Il Stagnone is also home to the island of Mozia, once the most important settlement of the Carthaginians in Sicily. Joseph Whitaker bought the islet in the 20th century. Thanks to him a valuable collection of remains has been recovered, which can be admired in the Museum Whitaker. Along the old salt road, in front of the island of Mozia, is the old salt mill & museum “Ettore e Infersa”. A visit to both, the islet and the mill is highly recommended. Just pack some pick nick, head to the Mozia pier and hop on a boat.
There is a little archipelago called Egadi Islands to be discovered, which is barely touched by tourism. At Levanzo and Marettimo there are no motorbikes and cars allowed, so these islands are perfect for some really quiet holidays.There are more than 400 endemic plants which makes it interesting for travellers interested in botany. Marettimo is characterized by a crystalline sea, an extraordinary vegetation, and by a wide population of wild animals like wild boars, mouflon and red deer. You can take your car to the island, but you will have to park it at the port because like on Levanzo: no cars allowed. Favignana is the most important and largest island of the mini-archipelago, and a popular holiday destination in summer for Italians and Sicilians thanks to its clear blue waters and glorious beaches. See more here
How to get to Marsala
From Palermo take the E90/A29 (1h 40 min), from Trapani the coastal SS 115, from Syracuse follow A 19 to Palermo, then E90/A29 (4 h), same from Catania (3,5 h).
By bus & train
All buses and trains from Palermo, Castelvetrano and Trapani stop in Marsala. AST, Salemi and Lumia buses pull in near Porta Garibaldi. From the train station it is a short walk of 15 minutes to the city centre.
By your yacht
Not recommended! The harbour is unattractive, if not dreary, it is dirty and expensive. If you would like to see the western part of Sicily, the port of Trapani is the more convenient choice. Trapani is also the shortest crossing from Sardinia. Anyway, if you would like try: the visitors berth are either on the east side of the long outer breakwater or to starboard inside the entrance. Please see more here
The nearest airport is Trapani-Birgi, only 20 km from Marsala, which is served by both national and international airlines. There are flights from/to London, Dublin, Paris, Brussels, Barcelona and Frankfurt (amongst others). The international airport of Palermo is also just one hour away. See more here