Top places to visit in Marettimo, the wildest and most unspoiled of the Egadi Islands

Marettimo is an Italian island belonging to the archipelago of the Egadi islands, in Sicily. It is the second largest island of the Egadi archipelago, preceded by Favignana and followed by Levanzo.

The ancient populations of this restricted area of ​​the Mediterranean (Phoenicians, Elimi, Sicani) attributed it the character of sacredness that can still be enjoyed today. According to the Trapani Odyssey theory (born by Samuel Butler), Marèttimo would coincide, from a geographical point of view, with Ithaca, the homeland of Ulysses. It would be the hero himself to indicate its position.

The Romans built a military garrison in Marettimo after the first Punic war, around 150 BC. whose purpose was to control the route between Tunisia and Rome. The complex, known as Roman Houses, is located upstream of the village, at an altitude of about 250 meters and consists of two small buildings and a later Norman church.

Several authors cite Hierà as the place where the peace treaty between the Romans and the Punic-Carthaginians was signed after the dramatic Battle of the Egadi Islands on 10 March 241 BC.

The castle of Punta Troia, built in the Norman period (around 1140), was later also used as a prison. During the Bourbon period, Guglielmo Pepe was also detained inside his narrow and dark cells.

The ancient Greek toponym of the island, mentioned by Polybius, was Hierà Nésos (Ἱερά νῆσος), which means “sacred island”. The current name most likely derives from Marìtima, the Latin name of the island which already appears in the Antonino Itinerary, from the 3rd century AD.

Some scholars suggest that the origin of the name is to be found in the abundant presence of wild thyme. However, this is not the only type of grass that grows spontaneously on the island, whose very particular climate has contributed to the development of an extraordinary flora.

The caves are the main natural feature: among those that emerged and the submerged, there are more than 400! In particular, among the sea caves, the Grotta del Tuono (also called Grotta del Presepe), or the Grotta del Cammello are worth mentioning. Due to its shape, few beaches can be reached by land; among these, however, the beautiful Cala Bianca, with its stones and its clear waters, located on the slopes of the promontory of Punta Troia

The highest point on the island is Monte Falcone (686 m). The island is crossed by various paths.

Let’s start our tour in this wonderful island!

 

 

The archaeological site “Roman houses”

 

Cited by the Greek author Polybius (203-120 BC) with the name of Hierà Nèsos (Sacred Island),

Marèttimo entered the history books following the battle of the Egadi on 10 March 241 BC, which

ended the first Punic war

 

It seems that the armistice between the Romans and the Carthaginians was signed precisely in

Marèttimo, which thus underlined an ancient vocation to sacredness and truce between different #

peoples.

 

After the First Punic War the Romans did not completely abandon Marèttimo; around 150 BC they

built a military garrison that controlled the route between Cape Bon (Tunisia) and Rome.

The monumental complex known as Case Romane, which is located upstream of the village, at an

altitude of about 250 meters, is built in opus quasi reticulatum. It also has structures from the 4th

century AD, attributable to an ancient cult of water.

 

The area, particularly suggestive, was the subject of a first archaeological investigation in the mid

nineties by the archaeologists Fabiola Ardizzone and Elena Pezzini, and between 2007 and 2008 it

returned to be the scene of excavations by the same scholars, assisted by some young collaborators,

by the Municipality of Favignana-Egadi Islands and by the Superintendency of Trapani.

 

Recent stone removal works in the area have highlighted the presence of five boulders placed

vertically and symmetrically with respect to a central boulder of greater height. The boulders, aligned

between the Basilian church and the Roman remains, have given rise to fascinating hypotheses in

some visitors to the island. It affects, for example, the perfect alignment between the central boulder

and a horizontal boulder located upstream of the alignment itself, with the rising of the sun at the

spring and autumn equinoxes, as has often occurred in similar alignments, of Neolithic origin, visible

in Sardinia and Malta.

 

Thanks to these works, the knowledge of the history of Marèttimo was enriched with the discovery of

another building of Christian worship, equipped with an immersion baptistery, datable between the

VI and VII century AD which, most likely, was part of a protobizantine sanctuary pilgrimage destination.

 

 

The Byzantine Church

 

The Byzantine Church is one of the most characteristic monuments of the island of Marettimo and is

located in “Roman Houses”.

 

It is a small church from the Norman period (11th-12th century) and was built by the Basilian monks,

who chose this location because it protected them from the dangers of the sea and allowed them to

use a pre-existing Roman building as a monastery.

 

Over the past few years, the area around the Byzantine Church has been the subject of numerous

archaeological studies and excavations, which have enriched knowledge of the history of Marettimo,

especially after the discovery of another building dedicated to Christian worship, with a baptistery,

where the baptized were immersed in a source.

 

This building discovered near the Byzantine Church, datable between the VI and VII century AD. , was

part of a Proto-Byzantine sanctuary, a destination for pilgrimages. The discovery of this baptistery is

very important because it joins another that has been found in Selinunte.

 

The Byzantine Church was returned to the worship of the faithful, after some restoration works, on

April 25, 2010 after a solemn religious ceremony, in which the highest civil and military authorities

took part.

 

The event celebrated at the Byzantine Church was also an opportunity to send a message of peace

from the center of the Mediterranean and was organized with the collaboration of the inhabitants of

Marettimo and some associations, which intend to relaunch the cultural message among their goals,

which this island brings with it.

 

Since April 25, 2010 the church has been returned to the worship of the faithful.

 

      

Caves of Marettimo

 

The caves are the main natural feature of Marettimo : among those that emerged and the

submerged, there are more than 400! In particular, among the sea caves, the Grotta del Tuono (also

called Grotta del Presepe), or the Grotta del Cammello are worth mentioning.

Due to its shape, few beaches can be reached by land; among these, however, the beautiful Cala

Bianca, with its stones and its clear waters, located on the slopes of the promontory of Punta Troia.

 

Beaches are one of the ways to discover the sea of ​​Marettimo. An island with a wild and jagged

coast where numerous naturalistic jewels are set. Like these 8 caves, among the most beautiful in

Marettimo.

 

Pipe cave. Inside, shards, remains of oil lamps, dishes were found. Given the presence of a natural

tank full of fresh water, the cave has been inhabited for long periods.

 

Crib Cave. The name derives from a singular fact: some stalactites and stalagmites of this cave take on

peculiar forms that popular imagination has identified with the figures of the traditional nativity scene.

 

Ruttiddi Cave.  This name means ‘small caves’. Some of the most beautiful points are the tunnel about

Forty meters long and the lovers’ cave.

 

Grotta del Toro. Also in this case, the name derives from the particular shape of the place: right at the

entrance of the cave there is a large rock whose shape resembles a bull’s head seen in profile.

 

Thunder Cave. According to many, among all the caves of Marettimo, this is bathed by the most

beautiful sea. The name Grotta del Tuono derives from the sound of the sea that breaks on its steep

walls.

 

Bombarda cave. Relatively small, the name derives from the ‘breath’ that occurs inside the cave during

storm surges.

 

Perciata cave. “Perciata” means “hole”: the cave, in fact, looks like a huge hole in the coast overlooking

the sea. The sea is an unforgettable turquoise color.

 

Camel Cave

 

The name of this cave, the Grotta del Cammello, derives from the shape of the rock that you can see

near its opening. To fully enjoy its splendor, it is best to visit it in the central hours of the day, when

the sunlight filtering through an inlet between the rocks makes the cave shine with a thousand

reflections and plays of light.

 

The color of the water will appear clear and intense blue. This magical place has long been a refuge

for the monk seal who came here to shelter, give birth and raise her puppies. From the latest

research, it seems that this specimen has finally returned to this place. Some photos and organic

remains testify to his passage during the winter season.

 

It takes its name from the homonymous rock which has the shape of a big camel, inside the sea is

blue, clear and crystalline, the best time to visit this cave is at noon, the sun penetrates through the

circular opening of the vault , creating reflections and plays of light. For many years this was

the refuge of the monk seal, inside there are three pebble and sand beaches where the monk seal

found shelter, to rest, change its fur, give birth and take care of the offspring.

 

In 2011, after several sightings by some tourists and local fishermen, the AMP Egadi islands in

collaboration with ISPRA started a monitoring program, organic traces and photos confirm the

presence of the specimen during the winter.

 

The shots are made by a system of “photo-traps” arranged in strategic points which are activated by

the passage of animals and which, in this case,  have immortalized the monk seal.

 

 

 

Castle of Punta Troia

 

The castle of Punta Troia stands perched on a promontory that stands out on the sea at 116 meters high.

 

It is about 3.5 km from the town and can be reached by following a dirt path. Ideal walk for those who

love the mountains, easily accessible by boat for those who do not want to struggle on vacation.

 

The castle of Punta Troia, perfectly restored and can also be visited inside, retains the same structure

as when it was conceived and houses in its rooms the Museum of Carceri di Punta Troia and the

Observatory for the Monk Seal of the Marine Protected Area of ​​the Islands Egadi.

 

The castle of Punta Troia was built by the Saracens in the IX, who used it as a watchtower on the sea.

It is, however, only in the seventeenth century. with the Spaniards that the castle knows its current

shape.

 

The lower area consists of a single room. Then through a staircase you reach a hall from which through

a narrow passage you get to a new staircase that leads to the upper floor, where there are several

rooms.

 

The area of ​​the castle that deserves great attention is what was called “the tremendous pit”. It

was built by the Spaniards initially as a cistern for the collection of water and was later emptied and

transformed by them into a prison. It was a terrible place, mentioned in the diaries of several

prisoners, political dissidents, who give an accurate description of it: about seven meters deep,

without doors or windows.

 

The prisoners were lowered from above with ropes and then the pit was closed with a stone block.

Inside the prisoners had their feet tied with chains and lived in the almost total lack of air and light.

This horrible place was closed by King Ferdinand II in 1844. During the two world wars the castle was

used as a military garrison and subsequently abandoned.

 

Today perfectly restored and returned to society, it is the witness of the long and troubled history  of

this island.

 

The castle of Punta Troia can be reached by following the path created by the Forestry, even if it is not

very suitable for children, it is certainly ideal for those who love walking on mountain paths. However,

the easiest and shortest way to reach the castle is by boat, with one of the local guides.

 

 

 

Church of SS Maria delle Grazie

 

The church of Maria SS.delle Grazie on the island of Marettimo was blessed and opened to the faithful

on December 7, 1887. Before then spiritual comfort was assured by a royal chaplain who was

entrusted with a small chapel inside the walls of the Punta Castle Troy.

 

Another hypothesis is that the church was located at the foot of the castle itself under the title of Sant’Anna and abandoned because of pirate raids, inside the castle there was a chapel dedicated to Maria Santissima delle Grazie where they performed religious rites.

 

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, with the configuration of the first village, a second priest was assigned to Marettimo.

 

The cult of the Madonna di Custonaci has been, since the end of the 16th century, one of the most

popular and felt in the whole Erice area. It is said that a French ship bearing a painting of the Madonna

had miraculously found a way out of a storm near Cala Buguto, in Cornino.

 

This event, unexpected and divine, would have pushed the sailors to raise a place of worship here in

honor of what was then called Madonna di Custonaci. Every year, for more than four hundred years,

a festival has been celebrated in honor of the patron saint of Custonaci, Erice and Valderice.

 

Also in Marettimo the devotion to Our Lady of Custonaci is established, strong and alive. It was July

17, 1852 when a copy of the revered effigy was transported to Marettimo, portrayed by the Erice

artist Pietro Croce on September 6, 1851. Devotion to N.S. of Custonaci was established on the island

thanks to the priest Ericino Giuseppe Criscenti, chaplain of the island, with his brother Sacerdote

Francesco, canon of the Cathedral of Trapani.

 

The painting, located inside a “vara”, by the master  Salvatore Loretta, was brought to Marettimo by

ten priests from Erice, two canons and two  Augustinian religious from Trapani. On shoulder the “vara”

was transferred to the local church, then  still a large warehouse, and the painting placed in its altar.

 

Originally, the painting was devoid of the two silver crowns placed on the heads of the Madonna and

the Baby Jesus donated and posted in 1858 by Pietro and Antonino Spataro was Vincenzo.

 

 

Trekking in Marettimo

 

Marettimo is the most mountainous island of the Egadi archipelago: the highest peak is Monte

Falcone (686 m. S.l.m.). It has a coastal development of 19 km. And an area of ​​12.3 sq. Km.

The isolation from the mainland from which it detached 600,000 years ago, makes Marettimo one of

the most interesting islands in the Mediterranean and suitable for those who love trekking and

diving. between the scents and colors of the Mediterranean scrub and the blue of the sea.

 

The particular rocky conformation and the presence of numerous water sources, has allowed the

conservation of over 500 botanical species, some of which are endemic. The vegetation of the

island, in the highest part, is typical of the Mediterranean scrub, the dominant species being the

Lentisk (Pistacia lentiscus), followed by the Red Cistus (Cistus incanus), the Thyme (Thymus

vulgaris) and the Heather (Erica arborea ). In other areas, Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis),

Euphorbia (Euphorbia dendroide and E. bivonae), Cineraria (Senecio cineraria), the Widow Bush

(Globularia alypum) and Ruta Frangiata appear. Among the endemisms we mention the Brassica

macrocarpa.

 

In Marettimo, there are also several animal species, it is easy to meet mouflons, deer, wild boars and

wild rabbits. From a wildlife point of view, the island is of particular importance for birdlife, being on

the migratory routes, so it is possible to observe many birds of passage.

 

It is important to mention the observation of Bianconi and Aquile, while among the nesting species we must mention: the Bird of the Storms (Hydrobates pelagicus) and the Magnanine (Sylvia undata).

 

There are also on the island: the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), the Buzzard (Buteo buteo), the Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), the Barn Owl (Tyto alba), the Greater Swift (Apus apus) the Imperial Crow (Corvus corax), the Verzellino (Serinus serinus), the Verdone (Carduelis chloris), the Fanello (Carduelis cannabina) and the Mediterranean Herring Gull (Larus cachinnans).

 

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