Marsala is a beautiful coastal town in western Sicily. The town has immense pride in its ancient origins and the fine exhibits in its archaeological museum. Marsala offers excellent hotels, public transport connections to the other principal sights in this part of Sicily, and ferry services to the gorgeous Egadi Islands.
Marsala's origins are tied up with those of an unusual archaeological site nearby, the little island of Mozia, also known as San Pantaleo. Mozia was an important colonial stronghold of Carthage in north Africa, itself an early colony of the Phoenician ('Punic') people. After the Greeks of Syracuse attacked and destroyed Mozia in 397 BC, most of the island-city's surviving residents shifted their main settlement to the Sicilian mainland, to an easily defensible site on a promontory: this new town was Lilybaeum, the present-day Marsala. Lilybaeum seems to have thrived for centuries, first under its founders and then under the Romans after their defeat of the Carthaginians in the First Punic War. These hostilities culminated in a naval battle off the Egadi Islands in 241 BC, won by the Romans, which was the occasion of the sinking of a famous ancient warship displayed Marsala's archaeological museum today.
Later, Marsala became a leading town of Arab Sicily, and was an important port for traffic to and from Africa. Under the subsequent rulers of Sicily, the town's importance declined until a businessman from Liverpool took an interest.
Marsala is nowadays most famous for two things. Firstly, its wine, also called Marsala. After a long period of poverty, Marsala became home to a prosperous wine trade, developed by entrepreneurs at the end of the eighteenth century, led by one John Woodhouse, from Liverpool, who exported the fortified wine. Other English and Sicilian businessmen followed his example, and it was in fact one of these men, Joseph Whitaker, who began excavating and piecing together the history of Marsala.
As a tourist destination, Marsala is often overlooked due to the proximity of a number of better-known sites nearby such as Greek Selinunte and busy Trapani. However, it is a pleasant historic town in its own right, and both the nearby site of Mozia and Marsala's own archaeological museum are important destinations for those with an interest in history.