Founded by the Phoenicians, home to the Carthaginians for several hundred years, and then conquered by the Arabs, Marsala has a long and complex history. Its strategic location on Sicily's most western tip quickly turned it into a significant commercial hub, growing wealthy from the spoils of international trade.
In turn, this attracted everyone from the Aragonese to the Swedish, who came, conquered and ruled in waves until Garibaldi landed here in 1860 with a 1,000-strong army on his quest to unify Italy. Today, the sleepy city streets reveal their history in an elegant medley of architectural styles.
Marsala also has a strong North African influence. Geographically closer to Tunisia than mainland Italy, its narrow, winding streets and traditional markets have a decidedly Arabian atmosphere. Indeed, its name comes from the Arabic Marsa Allah (Port of God).
Above all else though, the city is most associated with Marsala wine, the region's greatest export since the end of the 18th century. English merchant John Woodhouse is credited with introducing the local wine to international markets, hoping it would prove as popular as sherry and Madeira. He fortified it to ensure it would survive the long sea journeys abroad.
Marsala soon became the tipple of choice for the British gentry and Woodhouse's fortune was made when Admiral Nelson began to use it as his sailors' ration after the Battle of the Nile in 1798.
Today, more than one million liters (26.5 million gallons) of wine are produced here each year, and you can tour historic wine cellars set in a rich Mediterranean landscape of olive groves and rolling vineyards.
An even older enterprise than winegrowing, however, is the production of the region's sea salt. Prized as the finest in Italy, the salt has been panned here since the 12th century in a series of shallow pools along the coastline. This historic industry is kept alive by a small number of artisanal producers. Driving along the road between Marsala and Trapani, you'll notice mounds of salt ready for collection as well as the windmills used to grind the precious condiment.
Suggested Marsala itinerary
This sample itinerary will give you an idea of what is possible when you travel in Marsala, and showcases routes we know work particularly well. Treat this as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.
Map of Marsala
Places & hotels on the map
Places near Marsala
- Erice and Trapani 19 miles away
- Palermo 56 miles away
- Agrigento 72 miles away
- Sicily 103 miles away
- Villa Romana del Casale 109 miles away
- Ragusa, Modica & Noto 140 miles away
- Mount Etna 140 miles away
- Taormina 156 miles away
- Syracuse 165 miles away
- Capri 214 miles away
- Sorrento 222 miles away
- The Amalfi Coast 228 miles away
- Naples 232 miles away
- Herculaneum 232 miles away
- Pompeii 232 miles away
- Rome 284 miles away
- Matera 299 miles away