Sightseeing in Erice

Strolling the medieval streets of Erice—and shopping for rugs

Erice has few technical sights, but plenty of stony hill town character, and the best way to enjoy it is simply to wander the back streets and alleys set with strategically placed flowering vines and pots, baroque balconies, and medieval shop fronts, today converted into private home entrances (you can tell which ones were shops by the shape; if it looks like a fat, upside-down "L", it was a shop—the door was the vertical part of the L, a window/table for selling wares forms the horizontal part).

If you need some destinations for your ambles, head first to the Chiesa Matrice, built in 1314 with a fine Gothic porch. The neo-Gothic interior, open 8am to noon and 4pm to 7pm, has a Domenico Gagini Madonna on the right aisle. You can climb the 15th-century bell tower (adm) to get a great view over the town in one direction and a panorama across the gulf of Trapani and Egadi Islands on the other.

From here you can follow (left) Via Rabata from the Porta Trapani gate to the Porta Spada gate, skirting the inside of the ancient city walls, built by the Phoenicians to protect the east flank of town (the only one not riding a cliff edge). Look carefully at the pale blocks by the doorway partway along and you can find some faint concentric rings carved into the stone by the Phoenicians 2,800 years ago.

If you're dying for a museum, the teensy Museo Comunale Cordici, on the central Piazza Umberto I (tel. 0923-502-148), has an Antonello Gagini Annunciation near the entrance, but otherwise is basically a small room at the back of the town library with some Greek pot shards, ex-voto fragments, ancient statuettes, coins, and church vestments. Admission is free; it's open daily 8am to 1:30pm.

Make sure you head to the southwest corner of town where you'll find the ilex-shaded Villa Balio gardens—laid out in the 19th century when Count Agostino Pepoli reconstructed the Norman castle in their midst.

Beyond the gardens, a path is slung along the cliff edge to lead up to Erice's highest point, the Castello di Venere, today little more than crumbling Norman-era walls surrounding the sacred site where the Temple to Venus once stood. Piercing the walls are several windows and doorways with spectacular views across the countryside.

Rugs in Erice

Rugs, about two feet wide with colorful basic geometric designs in zigzags and diamonds, were traditionally woven from textile leftovers.

The best weavers still use scraps on their hand-worked looms, although they also turn their artisans' hands to more innovative designs using first-rate threads and a calliope of dyes. Maria La Sala works the loom in her little shop at Via V. Emanuele 80 (no phone); Anna weaves inside Ceramica Ericina at Via V. Emanuele 7 (tel. 0923-869-140).

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Erice Tourist info:
Viale Conte A. Pepoli 11
tel. +39-0923-869-388

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Erice Tourist info:
Viale Conte A. Pepoli 11
tel. +39-0923-869-388

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