Marsala, It’s Not Just Wine

Who hasn’t heard of Marsala wine? You might not know, however, that it comes from the West coast of Sicily, in fact, Marsala is the most western point of the island.  With such notoriety for its wines I would have thought that the town itself would be filled with tourist attractions cashing in on the wine’s fame. But no. You can barely tell that Marsala is even produced here, let alone find a restaurant that serves something al Marsala. Actually when we arrived at lunch time we had a hard time even finding a restaurant that was open.

The town center is attractive, charming and clean, lined with baroque buildings.  A pedestrian only shopping street runs through the center of the old town with lots of bars and pastry shops but few actual restaurants.

Archaeological Museum and Mosaics

After lunch we wandered over to the Archaeological Museum to see a warship sunk during the First Punic War in 241 BC. According to Lonely Planet seeing this ship alone is worth the trip to Marsala. Well, only if you are really into that sort of thing. Don enjoyed it, but for me a few pieces of really, really old timber on a metal frame showing how the rest of the ship should have looked is interesting but not a must see.

The best part of the museum visit was the outing to see the mosaics. Don happened to notice a sign at the front desk that said that if you wanted to see the mosaics, ask at the reception desk. So I did. Yes, we could see them but we would have to walk. “Is it far?” “Un po lontanto” (a little far). OK.

We waited for our guide; or rather guide plus companion, two rough looking Italians who smoked too much and spoke in a fast accented Italian that I could barely understand. We walked along the waterfront for about 10 minutes and arrived at a locked gate. No, he didn’t have the key; it’s not supposed to be locked.

After a bit of negotiation of meaning I learned that this excavation site had been closed for some time and had just reopened today. They hadn’t worked out all the kinks in the system yet for tourists to visit the site. Normally there is a path that leads directly from the museum to the site, but it was still under construction, hence the long walk along the waterfront. Finally someone arrived in a car with the key and we were allowed in.

Our guide took us around what was formerly a Roman villa, showing us various sectors of the residence. “This is where the servants lived; the mosaics are simpler and an inferior stone was used.” In the main residence there were mosaic floors with the head of Medusa symbolizing Sicily, a guard dog protecting the entrance and the floor of the sauna drying room decorated with lions, tigers and jaguars attacking their prey.

A fun and interesting tour and well worth the wait to get in. Our guide really wasn’t used to talking to foreigners, not knowing how to explain something if I didn’t get it the first time, but we managed.  I was thrilled and humbled at the same time. A great authentic speaking experience, but humbling for my lack of vocabulary and speaking skills.

For links to all the posts in this series see the Sicily page.

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