Looking for Venus in Sicily

Looking for Venus in Sicily

As we approached the Sicilian coast on August the 10th, we chose – quite at random, as the sun would go down soon – to stop at the Trapani harbour. We knew nothing about the place, except that there was a free anchorage within the port. But the next morning’s googling revealed an ancient town by the name of Erice on top of a hill close by, and that definitely got us interested! The easiest way to get there would be by a cableway.

The Etruscan by Mika Waltari © WSOY 1955 – one of the most translated Finnish books of all times – tells about the adventures of Turms, the Etruscan, through the Mediterranean. He stole a priestess from the temple of Venus in Eryx, one of the worst decisions he ever made in his life!

Trapani turned out to be a dirty, littered city. But the anchorage was excellent for a budget cruiser, and the basic amenities, such as a cheap pizza restaurant or two, and a small supermarket, were all within walking distance. We got the bus routes and time tables sorted out by talking fluent Italian with our hands, as the locals do, and on a sweaty Tuesday we successfully made our way to the Funivia Station in the outskirts of Trapani, and the adventure began.

Erice went originally by the name of Eryx, and it was well known through the whole Mediterranean because of a temple dedicated to Venus. The western corner of Sicily was ruled in turn by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks and Romans, and Venus herself was called by different names such as Astarte and Aphrodite.  Later the temple fell into ruins, and in the Middle Ages a large castle was built on top of it. 

View from Erice towards Trapani and the harbour

The walled city has been well preserved in its Medieval form, with its castles, city walls, town gates, several churches and convents. The narrow, paved streets and stone houses are very picturesque.

Nothing more than a few archaeological fragments of the temple of Venus remain, so it’s up to the visitor’s imagination to picture the rites and ceremonies that went on between the beautiful priestesses and the pilgrims within the temple grounds. The breathtaking views over the surrounding landscape, however, are still the same.

Sicily has come a long way since those times. Now, in August, there are great celebrations of the Virgin Mary going on. We crashed the party one night, as her statue was taken out to sea by a long procession of fishing and pleasure boats, and joined the queue with our little dinghy. As they returned to the city, there was some marching band music, and streets were full of locals celebrating. But I feel that the Madonna is a pretty pale shadow compared to the good old Venus who used to rule in these parts, and the present celebrations not much compared to what went on in temple on the mountain top!

Fishing boat procession of Madonna di Trapani

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