The town of Salemi surrounds a Norman Swabian castle on a hilltop among the vineyards and olive groves of the Belice valley. It has a mediaeval layout and is situated at the centre of the Province of Trapani. Ancient Halicyae, which came under the influence of the Elymians, offers a rich archaeological legacy, including the sites of Mokarta and Monte Polizo, and the San Miceli area. The historic centre is an architectural treasure chest that deserves to be visited, with its historic palaces built with the local Campanella stone, its churches, and the Jewish and Muslim quarters, Giudecca and Rabato.
Salemi is known as the “City of the Loaves”. In fact, ceremonial loaves of bread are made for various age-old traditional festivities that are still celebrated in the town today. The best known are the Festival of San Giuseppe on 19 March, with its famous “banquets” and the “altars”, the Festival of Sant’Antonio Abate with its “cudduri”, and the Festival of San Biagio with its “cavadduzzi” and “cuddureddi”.
The origins of Salemi are very old, dating back to the age of the Sicani. In fact, the city of Halicyae was a Sicano-Elymian settlement. The current name of the town is derived from the Arabic name “Salem”. The urban layout is also reminiscent of the Arab period with its alleys and courtyards. Frederick II of Swabia was responsible for the reconstruction of the castle on a pre-existing fortified structure. The town played a significant part in the uprising of 1848 and was even more important in the Expedition of the Thousand in 1860; in fact, on 14 May 1860, Garibaldi announced that he was assuming dictatorship over Sicily from the Town Hall of Salemi.
Over the years, it has developed a dynamic culture of learning, as famous personalities like the scientist and politician Simone Corleo, the musician Alberto Favara and the lawyer Francescao D’Aguirre demonstrate.
A break in the social and urban fabric took place with the earthquake of 1968, which caused considerable damage and led to the construction of new residential areas.
Salemi is situated at 35 degrees longitude and 37.32 degrees latitude at a height of 442 metres above sea level. The surrounding area of 18,182 hectares is mainly flat, with the exceptions of the elevations of Montagna Grande (761m), Monte Polizo (713m), Monte Settesoldi (583m), Dimina and Posillesi (542m). There are several torrential watercourses. The largest of these is the Fiume Grande, which marks the border with S. Ninfa and Castelvetrano, feeds into the large Trinità di Delia reservoir and then flows into the sea between Capo Granitola and Mazara del Vallo.
The geological formation of the rock dates back mainly to the Pliocene; clays, sandstone and limestone are therefore common. In some areas, like “Grutti” and “Gessi” there is calcium sulphate from the Miocene period.
The economy is mainly agricultural and wine growing is the most prevalent activity, occupying about 50% of the cultivated area, followed by arable farming, with about 30%, olive growing with 5%, and other less common crops like citrus fruits and vegetables.
At one time, livestock rearing flourished, but it is now in decline to the point where the surface area given over to grazing, which a few decades ago was up to 30%, now covers no more than 5% of the total area.
In the few uncultivated areas typical Mediterranean vegetation grows, especially origanum vulgare (oregano), arundo amphelodesmo (“disa”) and chamaerops humilis (“giummara”) once used for making brooms and mats.
Salemi is situated at the geographical centre of the province of Trapani, which means that it the same distance from the principal cultural tourist attractions in Western Sicily, like Selinunte, the Cusa Quarries, Mothia, the Stagnone Nature Reserve and Erice, which are all 35 km away.