In the southeast corner of Erice stands the Norman castle that is now in two parts: Castello di Venere and Castello Pepoli. The castle was built over the impregnable rock in Erice, making its defenses rather secure. It was also built over the ruins of the Temple of Venus Erycina and contains the sacred well from the temple; the castle also has remains of a Phoenician house and a Roman bath. This is a castle that has spanned the course of history!
All that remains of the Castello di Venere is the watchtower that was also used as a prison. It is a very Norman looking structure and has Ghibelline castellations at the top. Above the entrance way is the Hapsburg coat of arms of Charles V and a lovely Gothic window.
It was this Gothic window that excited me. On this rather cold and blustery day, the golden light emanating from this window lured me into the false assumption that we could escape the grayness and mist by touring the castle. Unfortunately, we were there in the off-season and like most everything else in Erice at the end of the November, the castle was closed. The official opening days for off-season are only on the weekends (and we were here mid-week, go figure!). Even though my guide book said the interior wasn’t much to look at, I was still curious.
My guide book also said the view was spectacular – not sure that was quite accurate on the day we were there!
The castle is situated rather nicely and has been well maintained. We walked around it as best we could before heading around the corner to the other part of the castle: Castello Pepoli.
The Castello Pepoli is part of the Norman castle – it has a different name than the Castello di Venere since this part of the castle was purchased by Count Pepoli (if you can buy a castle, you might as well rename it after yourself!) and reconstructed in the late 1800s. The former hunting lodge, now the Torretta Pepoli, is a neo-Gothic structure beautifully situated below the castle and can be seen by looking over the wall from either part of the castle. This part of the castle is one of the symbols of Erice.
The Castello Pepoli today is used for the Torri Pepoli, an exclusive hotel in Erice. Everything was closed up tight on the day we visited. But we were able to walk around most of the structure and get a decent view of the Torretta Pepoli from the overlook.
This church stands near Porta Trapani and we passed it on our way back to the parking lot after walking along the city wall from Porta Carmine. Built in 1314 to Our Lady of the Assumption, the Gothic façade is rather plain but has a rather nice portico with pointed arches dating back to 1426 – perfect protection from the wet mist we were experiencing.
In the front of the church is the campanile (bell tower) that was actually built before the church and served as an Aragonese watchtower for the town (Frederick III). This part of Erice is next to the city walls and the section that would be most susceptible to attack.
Like everything else in Erice, the church was locked up tight so we could not take a peek in. It was restored back to its original look in 1865 and contains portions of 15th century frescos, a large marble altarpiece, and various paintings and sculptures.
Finally! Something was open in Erice! The Chiesa di San Cataldo is a one nave church that is artistically insignificant. Its foundations date back to the Norman period (it is said the Erice used to have more than 60 churches in this small town) and the church was built at least before the 14th century. It was restored to its original look in the 18th century, but the interior still looked Baroque to me.
The interior contains a 15th century marble font, a painting of St. Stephen by Andrea Carreca of Trapani (1667), and a 16th century wooden Crucifix.
For us, its stellar feature was that it was open, making it a memorable part of our Erice tour!
The lower parts of the city walls between Porta Trapani (near the funicular and the parking lot) and Porta Spada contain some large megalithic stones that date back to 1200-900 BC and the Phoenician era. Some of the stones have Phoenician letters carved into them. A good place to see these walls is on the path near the Porta Carmine, about half-way between the two other gates on the northwest side of the city. This is a nice path with some benches and lighting along the way. The square blocks above these ancient stones were added by the Carthaginians, while other smaller stones were added from about the 6th century AD onwards. The upper part of the walls and the gates were built by the Normans about the time the castle was built.
The walls and the gates added to the defense of the medieval city. The walls were only needed on one side as the castle side was on the high cliff that was virtually unreachable. Today six gates and 16 medieval towers still exist in Erice.
On Porta Carmine is a statue of the patron of Erice, the Blessed Albert of Trapani. The statue is in the niche above the gate; unfortunately, Albert is missing his head.
The Tourist Information Office has two different walking tours available with good signs around at each location. Although the TI was closed while we were in Erice, the signs were there and helped us find our way around and explain what we were seeing. Because we didn’t have a paper map, we didn’t really follow the tour, but as we came to the various sights, we appreciated the signs. Especially when we got a bit lost, the signs helped us find our way again.
One thing to note – the languages are mixed up on the signs – see the above photo.
The Castle de Venere sits atop Mount San Giuliano. It dates from the 12th century and was built to ward of Norman invaders. Now mainly in ruins there are spectacular views from its ramparts. On a clear day it is possible to see as far as the island of Ustica
Open from 9am to 8pm everyday(Admission is free)
The church of Matrice was built in 1314 from stones taken from the ancient Temple of Venus that reputedly stood on this site. Climb the campinello(bell tower)for stunning views across the the Gulf of Trapani and beyond to the Egadi Islands.
Open to the public - Monday to Friday 9.30am to 12.30pm then 3.30pm to 5.30pm
Weekends: 9.30am to 1.00pm then 3.30pm to 6 pm
This is the heart of Erice, with some nice restaurant, the municipality building and the Museum.
Remember that the price in Erice are more expensive thant in Trapani or other villages, cause is a 'must to see' place..
Info from Siciliano.it
The town’s main church is situated near Porta di Trapani, one of the entrances to the town. Built in the 14C, principally using stone from the Temple of Venus, its massive form and merlon-topped walls suggest it was intended as a church-fortress. The façade is graced with a fine rose-window (replicating the original), that is now partly concealed by the Gothic porch that was added a century later. Inside, fashioned in Neo-Gothic, sits a fine marble altarpiece from the Renaissance.
Bell-tower – The lonely tower to the left of the church was originally intended as a watchtower. The first level has simple narrow slits, while the upper section is graced with fine two-light Chiaramonte-style windows. The top is crenellated with Ghibelline merlons.
Surrounded by a lush park, the hilltop castles alone are worth a stop in Erice, which offers charming old stone streets and medieval churches.
Pepoli Castle was at first a feudal stronghold, though Erice was eventually ceded to the Crown as a demesnial city.
The view from the castle towers is stupendous.
Though both castles have been modified somewhat over the centuries, they still have that distinctively medieval character one expects of such fortresses.
The beautiful Mother Church is essentially a 14th century Gothic structure whose style reflects certain Romanesque influences. An older tower stands at the entrance, and the church itself was built upon a much older structure.
Well, what to say about Erice? We got there one late afternoon (or was it early evening?) when all the tour buses were heading out and we were on our way back from touring the area of Trapani. Our guide book told us "not to miss Erice on any account", so here we were.
Of course, there was too little time to get a good impression of the town, sights and restaurants were closing down and a fierce wind was rising. So may be we were just not here at a good time...
In the end we felt that should we have given this place a miss, there would have been a dozen other places in Sicily to make up for it. But if you're in the area, and you have some few hours to spend, don't hesitate to drive your car up the mountain and go see for your self why this medieval town is worth your time.
In Erice there are about 60 church and little chapel...this is San Pietro entrance and the Clarisse Monastry (XIV-XIII).
The better way to visit this medieval town is a free walking in the narrow stree, reading the history pannel u can find in front of the main building and church.