Trapani, an ancient port city on the far western end of Sicily, is closer to Tunis—as the crow flies—than it is to Taormina. Separated from North Africa by the Strait of Sicily, the city has been ruled by the Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Normans and the Kingdom of Naples, and sits on a narrow spit of crescent-shaped land (the name Trapani is derived from the Greek word for “sickle”) surrounded by a busy port and harbor, numerous salt pans and beaches. From the fishing port, daily catches of octopus, cuttlefish, shrimp and sardines are sold at a morning market. This area of Sicily is known for the mattanza, the ritual funneling of bluefin tuna into smaller and smaller nets and then killing them. The practice has been banned and largely disappeared due to drastic overfishing, but still survives in the nearby Aegadian Islands.
Because the city was heavily bombed in World War II, many of its buildings and apartment blocks are modern, but the old town has been restored to Baroque grandeur. The fortified walls of the Bastione Imperiale protected the city along its seafront, and visitors can climb to the top for an excellent view of the town spreading back toward the castle hill town of Erice.