Explore with Italia Delight what to see in Mazara del Vallo, the town halfway between Europe and the Middle East.
In the province of Trapani, Mazara del Vallo is a beautiful coastal town that owes its name to the waterway that cuts it in two: the Màzaro River. Located on the Sicilian Channel, this town has become, over the centuries, home to one of the most important and well-known fishing ports in the Mediterranean.
Here, the beauty and charm of the various peoples who have lived here come together, creating a multitude of different architectures and traditions. Did you know that in the Middle Ages this city was home to four different cultures? There were Latins, Greeks, Muslims and Jews, all living together. Each of them left their spirit in the streets of the city, creating a beautiful multi-ethnic village and symbol of the cultural exchange that took place in Sicily.
A legacy of these dominations is the Kasbah, the Islamic quarter located in the city’s historic centre. It has become famous for its structure, made up of small streets, typical of Arab medinas. And today, centuries later, it is the Tunisian community that has revitalised this quarter, returning to live in the houses of its ancestors.
But this is not the end of the story, because the Mazara del Vallo sea is rich in treasures: such as the Mazara red prawn, a prized crustacean fished in these waters; some enchanting beaches, such as Tonnarella and many ancient artefacts hidden in the abysses. Here, in fact, the Dancing Satyr, a bronze statue dating back to Greek rule, was found.
An excellent example of coexistence between peoples, this town is definitely a must-see on your trip to Sicily, even if only for a day. This guide is precisely for those who, like you, have little time and want to discover what to see in Mazara del Vallo.
Once you have got to know the historic centre, I will tell you all my advice on how to extend your visit, delving into this splendid area. I will tell you what to do and what to see in and around Mazara del Vallo to extend your weekend or holiday. Follow me in this guide to visit Mazara del Vallo and its surroundings at its best!
What to see in Mazara del Vallo
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Let’s start now to discover the main attractions to visit in Mazara del Vallo, starting with those located right in town. I suggest you park your car in the municipal car park San Luca and proceed on foot through the narrow streets of the historic centre. This car park is charged and, alternatively, you can find another one on the seafront, in Piazzale Giovan Battista Quinci.
Once you have left your car, you can start this tour, remembering that its duration will depend only on you, depending on how long you decide to stop in each point.
Let us start with the Kasbah, the ancient Islamic heart of Mazara del Vallo that occupies the San Francesco and La Giudecca districts. It is located in the north-west of the city, about 10 minutes from the San Luca car park. Here, the Arab style of urbanisation is still present and brought to light thanks to the various interventions of the Tunisian community who, together with the help of the local administration, have decorated its houses and streets. In this part of the city, you feel as if you were suddenly lost and found on the other side of the Sicilian Channel: in Tunisia (actually 200 km away).
2. The blue gate of Mazara
As you stroll through this multi-ethnic neighbourhood, I recommend you go to Via Pilazza n. 31 and admire Mazara’s striking blue door. This entrance to a traditional Mazara house will be able to take you all the way to the other side of the Mediterranean, to Sidi Bou Said, the Tunisian city known around the world for its characteristic entrances. Don’t miss the chance to take a photo with this incredible suggestion!
3. Street art
Thanks to the former mayor Nicolò Cristaldi, a well-known local ceramist, the Kasbah – but in fact the whole town – has become the scene of a fascinating work of improvement and redevelopment, thanks to the inclusion of various works of art, including colourful ceramic vases. In addition to these, you can admire paintings, phrases, poems, painted majolicas, colourful shutters and murals; all engraved on the walls in the most colourful ways. This type of urban “decor” has certainly contributed not only to colouring Mazara del Vallo, but also to reviving one of the city’s craft traditions: the art of ceramics.
4. Church of San Francesco
Also in this district finds itself the Baroque Church of San Francesco. Despite its apparent simplicity on the outside, it houses all kinds of decorations inside: those are made in stucco, gold or even white marble. This triumph of Sicilian Baroque is certainly among the most famous – and most visited – monuments in Mazara del Vallo and you too should not miss it!
5. Museum of the Dancing Satyr
Heading towards the sea, you will come to the deconsecrated church of Sant’Egidio, which today houses the Museum of the Dancing Satyr. This bronze statue, depicting the mythical male figure while whirling dancing, was retrieved by the same motorboat in two separate phases: first the left leg was found in ’97 and, in ’98, the rest of the body.
The work, still missing its right leg and arms, has become a symbol of the underwater heritage of the Strait of Sicily. Various historical relics dating back to classical, Hellenistic, Punic, Roman and medieval times have been recovered in these waters. Other exhibits that can be admired include an elephant’s foot made of bronze and a selection of transport amphorae. You can visit the museum with a full ticket price of 6 euro.
6. Church of St Ignatius
Among the things to see in Mazara del Vallo, there is the Church of Sant’Ignazio. Of this Baroque building, unfortunately, only the façade overlooking Piazza del Plebiscito remains. This is due to the 1933’s earthquake, that caused its roof to collapse. Today, only the entrance portal remains, which supports, inside a round frieze, the marble bust of the Saint. Once you cross its threshold, you can visit the open-air ruins of this circular church.
7. Piazza della Repubblica with the Seminario dei Chierici and the Bishop’s Palace
Proceeding along Via XX Settembre, you will arrive in Piazza della Repubblica, the most important square in the city. In the centre there is the statue of St Vitus, built on the base of the ancient Arab minaret of Mazara del Vallo. In addition to the cathedral, the square is also home to the bishop’s palace, the clerics’ seminary and some of the most important museums. The former is the seat of the bishopric and houses, in its inner courtyard, an arcade with round arches. The second, on the other hand, has a base formed by 11 arches, an upper loggia built with Baroque decorations in full 18th-century style. Both of these buildings face the end of the square, where the cathedral is located. This is also connected to the Bishop’s Palace by a covered bridge, called “Tocchetto”.
8. The Norman Cathedral of San Salvatore
The Cathedral of Mazara del Vallo is yet another example of the history of this land, dominated by various peoples and cultures. Built over the ruins of another basilica, destroyed in the past by the Saracens, it now amazes tourists from all over the world with its central dome, containing a fresco of the Last Judgement.
9. Diocesan Museum and Ornithological Museum
Piazza della Repubblica is also home to the Diocesan Museum and the Ornithological Museum. Both are housed in the 18th-century building of the Seminario dei Chierici. The visit, with free offer admission, gives you the opportunity to appreciate various silverware and sacred objects belonging to the diocese of Mazara del Vallo and dating from the 1300 to 1800. The ornithological museum, on the other hand, allows visitors to admire around 500 species of stuffed birds and some mammals. The presence of a touchscreen totem makes the experience light and suitable even for children.
10. Norman Arch
Leaving Piazza della Repubblica, passing under the Tocchetto of the Cathedral, you will reach Piazza Mokarta, where the Norman arch is located. This monument is all that remains of the first castle built in Sicily after it was reconquest by Roger I D’Altavilla in 1072. The arch would have been the ancient entrance gate to the liberated city. Unfortunately, the rest of the castle was demolished in 1880 to build public gardens, which now belong to Villa Jolanda and can be visited on foot.
11. Waterfront and the harbour
While admiring the promenade, I suggest you stop and look down. You will notice that the staircase leading down to the lower level of the street is made up of many coloured ceramic tiles: a must for your souvenir photos.
Descending the steps you will find yourself on the Giuseppe Mazzini promenade, where you can relax with a pleasant stroll. As you walk along the avenue you will realise that the street art of Mazara del Vallo is not just confined to the Kasbah: here, too, there are several brightly coloured ceramic vases to take your eyes off the sea. Walk in a north-westerly direction and you will reach the ancient canal port, built by the Phoenicians.
12. Garibaldi Theatre
Heading back towards the city centre, you will find the Teatro Garibaldi, located at Via Carmine 15. Reopened to the public since 2010, this theatre was actually built in 1848 thanks to the fund left by Bishop Scalabrini, originally intended for the reconstruction of the canal port. Precisely because of this donation, the theatre was initially called the “People’s Theatre”.
13. Church of San Nicolò Regale
Continuing along the canal port, you will find the Church of San Nicolò Regale, built in the 13th century. Despite its medieval construction, remains of ancient Roman mosaics from the Imperial age have been found in its foundations. In addition, its interior flooring features various designs, made with Islamic-inspired colours.
14. Capo Feto Reserve
And for nature lovers, Mazara del Vallo is home to the Capo Feto nature reserve, protected by the Ministry of the Environment and included in the European Union’s “Natura 2000” network. Past the white beach of Tonnarella, about 7 km from the centre, the blue sea continues and becomes home to a rich ecosystem that includes fish such as red scorpionfish, murmora and red mullet. This is definitely a fixed point for all those who want to discover the most unspoilt part of Mazara del Vallo.
15. Roccazzo Archaeological Site
Continuing to explore outside the historic centre, you will find one of the things to see in Mazara del Vallo that you absolutely cannot miss. This is the archaeological site of Roccazzo, located 12 km from the municipality, on Regional Road 17. Completely free of charge, it offers the opportunity to visit the remains of large huts and no less than 47 shaft tombs, probably dating from the Copper Age.
10 things you absolutely must see in Mazara del Vallo
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Here is a list, dedicated to those with little time, of the 10 must-see things to visit in Mazara del Vallo in just one day:
- the Kasbah
- the blue gate of Mazara
- the Church of San Francesco
- the Dancing Satyr Museum
- the Church of Sant’Ignazio
- the Norman Cathedral
- the Norman arch
- the waterfront and canal port
- the Capo Feto reserve
- the archaeological site of Roccazzo
Visit Mazara del Vallo and its surroundings
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Now, I will tell you how to extend your trip and best explore the surroundings of this beautiful multicultural city.
Let’s start with Marsala, just 23 km from Mazara, which has gone down in history for the famous “Landing of the Thousand” (led by Garibaldi, Italian Resurgence’ hero) and its liqueur wine dedicated to the city. This wine, created to compete with Port and Sherry, was created by an English entrepreneur who recognised the potential of the island’s wines, at the time intended only for blending.
Continuing in the same direction, you will arrive in Trapani via the ancient salt road: home of the saltworks, its reflected landscapes and its windmills, used to grind salt.
Heading south-east from Mazara you will find Selinunte: Europe’s largest archaeological park. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit this impressive Greek acropolis.
Continuing southwards, you will find: Menfi, with its award-winning beaches and a 17 km long cycle path; Sciacca, a town of Arab origin famous for its carnival and ceramics; Sambuca di Sicilia and Caltabellotta, two enchanting villages in the province of Agrigento; and the majestic environmental artwork Cretto di Burri, located near Gibellina.
What to do in Mazara del Vallo?
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As you may have guessed, the length of your visit to Mazara del Vallo is entirely up to you and the activities you choose. I would certainly recommend a stroll around the centre, perhaps even buying some beautiful ceramics as a souvenir; or also along the seafront, admiring the splendid Strait of Sicily.
If you are a sea lover and visit this place in the summer, then you should definitely spend a day at the Tonnarella beach, which between establishments and free stretches, really offers everything you could need. Whether you like history or the beach, whether you are a sportsman or a relaxation’s lover, you should definitely try the exceptional local gastronomy, with an aperitif or by visiting the various trattorias in town.
Local food & wine
Among the typical products you cannot miss are the Mazara red prawns, a crustacean that has been fished in these seas for several centuries and is now a symbol of excellence of the local fishing activity. Also not to be missed are the wine and extra virgin olive oil, undisputed complements of every meal, and the Vastedda della Valle del Belice DOP cheese: a must to taste. But here are some of the best traditional dishes to try:
- the cous cous mazarese, a legacy of Arab culture adopted by Sicilian cuisine;
- the black bread of Castelvetrano, which owes its name to the particular type of durum wheat used;
- pasta with sardines, the first dish in history to combine sea and country’s flavours;
- the muccunetti; incredibly aromatic biscuits made with cooked wine, cinnamon, sesame, cloves and black pepper.
How to get there
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Finally, I leave you with a few pointers on how to get to this beautiful city.
Mazara del Vallo is located along state road 115 and is 132 km from Palermo and 50 km from Trapani. The nearest airports are also located in these two towns, from which you can travel by bus. The city is also served by a railway station.
My itinerary to discover what to see in Mazara del Vallo is finished. And you? Are you ready to set out to discover this and the many other places that Sicily has to offer?
Book your holiday now and remember that with Italia Delight you can organise your tailor-made food and wine trip to Sicily. What are you waiting for! 😍
Cover photo: pixabay, ulleo
Featured photo: pixabay, ulleo