Even for Sicily - land of wonders - Erice is an extraordinary place. It sits on top of an isolated mountain (not a hill) at 750 metres above sea level, and above cloud level much of the time. On a really good day you can see Africa to the south west, and Mount Etna to the east. It is barely inhabited (population 300 or so except in high summer when refugees from the heat of the plains descend - or rather ascend), giving the place a sort of post-holocaust feel as you wander the empty streets, past closed doors: only the boy playing football by himself in a secret piazza reminds you that there are people living here.
The cult of the love-goddess here goes back a long way - as at the Temple of Aphrodite on the summit of Acrocorith, the ancients believed in making men sweat for their free sex! There was a temple of Astarte, with sacred prostitution, here during the Phoenician occupation: it became the home of Venus Erycina after the Roman conquest in the first Punic War (around 250 BC). The original inhabitants were Elymians - neither Greek nor Carthaginian - and the city was probably founded from the Elymian centre at Segesta. The Romans were keen to exploit the supposed Elymian-Trojan connection, and in Virgil's Aeneid, Aeneas visits Eryx in Book 5. Aeneas forms an alliance with the king of Eryx, the wise Acestes, and after his father Anchises dies here, leaves the old and infirm in Eryx to proceed to Italy with a leaner fighting force. Before he left, he supposedly built the Temple to his mother Venus.
There's not much surviving of the Temple of Venus, but the superb site is occupied by a castle (Castello di Venere). From Erice - even if you can't see Tunisia or Etna - the views are mightily impressive: to Castellamare del Golfo and Monte Cofano to the west, to the salt pans of Trapani, Motya and the Egadi Islands to the east.
When I last visited - just after Easter in 2001 - as we chilled in the Piazza Umberto there were some challenging images as the now redundant cross was taken down and driven off in a a van.
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