Marsala lies in the province of Trapani in western Sicily. This town, Maissala in Sicilian, stands on the Ancient Carthaginian city of Lilybaion, from where the latin Lilybaeum comes. Like much of Sicily, this town was once under Arab rule, from where its current name comes. In fact Marsala comes from the Arabic for ‘God’s Port‘, ‘Marsa Allah’.
Marsala has an important and colorful history. In its archeological museum you can learn a little more about the role it played in some significant moments of Italian and European history. For example, here you can see the remains of a sunken ship. This is thought to date back to the Punic Wars, in particular a naval battle between the Romans and Carthaginians that took place just off Marsala’s shore in the 3rd Century BC.
More importantly for recent Italian history, this port is where Garibaldi first landed with his 1000 men. This was the start of the events immediately leading up to the Italian unification in the late 19th Century. The gate through which Garibaldi and his men passed is still visible today, and is named Porta Garibaldi in his honour. In fact, many cafés and businesses call themselves Garibaldi in memory of this Italian hero.
The English have also left their mark on this area. However, it was not to conquer or to fight battles. Instead, they turned to wine. In particular, it was the Liverpudlian John Woodhouse who in the late 18th Century pioneered the Marsala wine that is now celebrated throughout the world.
Marsala belongs to the Stagnone Nature Reserve which is famous for its lagoons and salt ponds. You can see these from the town’s port. From here you can also spot the Aegadian Islands. Marsala is also home to Motya island, an archeological site you can visit from the town’s port.
Within the town center you can also visit the Marsala Cathedral. This is dedicated to St Thomas Becket and lies on the Piazza della Repubblica. Unfortunately this suffered severe damage during WWII, however its renovations mean that it is still and incredibly interesting attraction within the town itself.
Marsala is a pleasant town to visit for one or two days, and benefits from slightly less tourist crowds than the neighboring Trapani and Selinute. To arrive here you can use the train connections from between Palermo and Trapani. It also has bus connections to many of the nearby towns and other major cities in Sicily.