The historical centre of Trapani, in the general framework of Sicily’s history, is an emerging place of culture and traditions, the image of an ever-changing historical, social and economic reality.
The oldest district of the city, known as ‘Casalicchio’, originally developed near the harbor and the church of St. Peter including the districts of Giudecca – where the Jewish community lived – and Biscottari, currently corresponding to the area between the seafront, via 30 Gennaio, via Mercè and Piazza Scarlatti.
Among the narrow winding streets- via Galvano, Catito, Sant’Eligio and Mercè are the old Mediterranean style houses, characterized by an inner courtyard, reminiscent of the Roman peristilium and the Arabic courtyard- where the life of a community and its domestic or professional relationships unfolded: access to the courtyard is marked and separated from the street by an arch that leads into the skifa, a narrow entrance, with no doors, covered by a barrel vault or a wooden covering, with distinct Islamic influences.
Wells, water tanks and sinks for hand-washing, made from a single block of stone are always present in the courtyards, as is the stairwell which leads to the upper floor.
The neighbourhood named “di mezzo” (in the middle) corresponds to present-day San Nicola district. The ancient name simply indicated the position between the older Casalicchio and Rua Nuova (now Via Garibaldi) that was built in 1286 during the expansion work of the city to the north, at the request of King James of Aragon.
In this district are found the oldest existing architectural remains in the historical centre, linked to the flowery Gothic style of the Chiaramonte, who along with few other families held power over the island: the churches of St. Dominic and St. Augustine and Palazzo Chiaramonte, in via Sette Dolori, of which remain a portal, three two- mullioned windows and one three-mullioned window.
The district known as Palazzo (litt. ‘palace’, ‘building’) developed following the urban reorganization requested by James of Aragon at the end of the 13th century, which also affected the extension of the city with the filling in of the marshy area located to the west and characterized by various islets and rocks: it had as its main axis the Rua Grande (today’s Corso Vittorio Emanuele). The name of the district, according to some historians, is due to the presence of elegant buildings. According to others, it is due to a quarry owned by Pietro Palazzo, from which in the 17th century a precious stone was extracted, used variously in architecture. Today it includes the western part of the historical centre with the districts San Lorenzo and San Francesco.
17th and 18th century churches and buildings give onto the Rua Grande: from the late-Mannerist façade of the church of the Jesuit College, to the Borrominiesque façade of the San Lorenzo Cathedral; from the façade of Palazzo Riccio di San Gioacchino to that of Palazzo Berardo Ferro. The domes of the churches of ‘San Lorenzo’, ‘Purgatorio’ and ‘San Francesco d’Assisi’ also stand out.