the city in Sicily that envelops you, from the Casbah to the seafront

the city in Sicily that envelops you, from the Casbah to the seafront
the city in Sicily that envelops you, from the Casbah to the seafront

The walls speak of history and hospitality. A place that captures the senses and emotions with sublime dishes, including mussels drowned in an ocean of sauce and pasta with seaweed

The small port and the seafront of Mazara del Vallo (photo by Igor Petyx for “Le Vie dei Tesori”)

I was told that here it is like living on an eternal holiday, with that blue horizon from where invasions and gifts came, another world which, if experienced as the people of Mazara have been able to do, becomes opportunity and pride.

Mazara del Vallo captures senses and emotions, from the Putia full of scents and colors, full of bags of couscous, jars of sauces, preparations, anchovies, broad beans, wild fennel and any type of spice and aroma. Gifts to take home, far away, to react to the uniformity and flattening of tastes and flavors. From there just cross the street and you’re in Kasbahwhere you have to get lost.

Following a path means limiting space, time and beauty. I aimlessly enter every alley, only in this way will I be able to see the extraordinary nature of this place, made even more unique by the great work of those who made it an open-air museum. Majolicatimely and precise directions, messages.

The walls speak of history and hospitality. The alleys of the Casbah of Mazara teach and embrace, the Arab becomes Sicilian when I ask for information, always accompanied by smiles, one of the largest Maghreb communities lives here. And it is while walking that you come across the courtyards, open and shared spaces as is customary in the villages across the sea, with clothes hanging out, children playing, fishing nets and open doors.


Wandering around I find a completely blue door, full of arabesques, if the owner is at home, he will have no problem letting you in, to show off his little palace. In another alley there is a bar, where at a table some “Mazaresi” play cards, while others smoke relaxed, hookahs placed on the ground, letting themselves be enveloped by flavored spirals of smoke; a television broadcasts North African music with Arabic subtitles, I remain still and observe them while the smell of fish comes from a window. Couscous is everywhere, in trattorias, small taverns, important restaurants.

The hands play an important role, the cous cous it must be “stuck”, turning it on the palm with circular movements, always in the same direction, only when the hand no longer gets dirty will it be ready to be placed in the mafaradda the concave ceramic plate, the substrate for an opulent seafood or vegetable soup, becoming Tabbouleh.

There is no food here but sublime dishesthe monumental mussels drowned in an ocean of sauce, the pasta with seaweed, or even fish sandwiches, and more fish… Nourishment for the soul are the beautiful churches of Mazara, some unfortunately closed like the Church of San Calcedonio, on whose steps there are cushions. I ask the nearby restaurant if I can sit. «But here we are in Sicily!»… Of course!

Between music and flowers, while waiting for a small luxurious aperitif, they tell me in the soft Mazarese dialect that here was the Fondaco dei Pisani at the time of the Maritime Republics. Continuing aimlessly along, I arrive at the church of San Francesco with frescoes, stucco statues, a plastic apparatus with ranks of “praying and hosannating” cherubs, a triumph of Baroque sumptuousness and richness.

The caretaker Carmela cleans and checks, welcomes me as if it were her home, sits next to me, talks to me about devils and sinners, about how worries and problems are calmed here, beauty heals, faith gives hope.

The Casbah of Mazara seems labyrinthine, but in reality it is a circle, through Tolerance Alleywhere Giudecca was located with the Bagno squareI enter the Vicolo del bandito Mazarese, Santaliviti near “Bal al Balarm” (Porta Palermo), then Vicolo Sferracavallo where animals were shod, Vanedda where the horns of slaughtered animals were displayed, Vicolo del Turco with a panel with the Ottoman invasion of Byzantium, then Largo Madia with large vases in the centre…

Two North African boys give me directions to an extraordinary square, the sumptuous one Republic square: a baroque living room, where everything confers nobility and refinement, from the flooring, to the buildings, to the loggia.

A few steps and a little further down there is Villa Jolanda, where Ruggero D’Altavilla’s castle once stood with its Ficus trees that look like mangroves, then Piazza Mokarta from the name of the ancient gate that led out of the city; here there is the Arch of the Norman King who founded an important Bishopric in Mazara, had the Cathedral built and gathered the first Sicilian Parliament in 1097.

The seafront runs as far as the eye can see overlooking the Sicilian Channel, among benches, where you can rest listening to the surf, imagining the Mazarese sailors in their typical clothing with the inevitable “birritta” where they hid the money.

The Dancing satyr he is nearby, the “miraculous catch” of the people of Mazara, he, forever young, continues his dance for all visitors. Opposite the Museum, the Jesuit college, where an artist, Ignazio Auguanno, has Mazara in miniature on display. Then, there is Mazar, the riveras the Carthaginians called it whose meaning is limit and frontier.

The Mazaro is also a pier, it was once so full of fishing boats that you could cross it by “jumping from one boat to another”. The Abanniata it leads to the Fish Market with its treasures, where Gambero Rosso dominates; once the opening was announced by a siren which also warned of the arrival of the Marrobbio, anomalous waves due to the atmospheric pressure that left gasping fish on the docks; the river was believed by the Arabs to be inhabited by spirits due to this phenomenon.

Sunset arrives, returning to the alleys is a pleasure, it’s hot, a man beckons to me with his hand, “come here, sit down, I see you’re tired, this is the Vicolo del Vento, it always blows here”. Grateful, I look around and soon the call will come from the loudspeakers, inviting the prayer “Allāhu Akbar”.

It’s true, a fresh breeze envelops me, I read on a panel. «It is the God Aeolus who watches over this space, son of magic, freedom and ambition».

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