Erice museum and the city library

Annunciazione del Gagini

The “Antonio Cordici Museum” at Erice

There is a nice museum in Erice. It is the “Antonio Cordici Museum”, which dates back to  January 1876.

The history of the Museum of Erice began with private collections. The first collector was Antonio Cordici (1586-1666), a great historian from Erice, who gathered anything with historical, artistic or archeological interest. He kept his collection in his house. Unfortunately most of his collections got lost. His heirs managed to preserve only a part of the coin collection. Some of these coins are Sikeliot,some greek-roman and punic.

After him other citizens followed his example, such as Count Agostino Pepoli who gathered a rich collection of findings coming from Erice, now kept at Pepoli Museum in Trapani.

As we will see later, Antonio Cordici was also a writer. He wrote “The History of the Town on Mount Erice”.

The suppression of religious corporations

Why the museum and the library were born at the end of the 19th century? There is an historical reason.

In 1866 a series of laws, so called Siccardi from the name of their  promulgator,  established to suppress all the convents and religious corporations. From that moment the Municipalities had the right to take possession of both the religious buildings and their assets.
So happened that the Municipality of Erice became the owner not only of the many convents but also of the valuable things kept in them.

Therefore in 1876 the new rulers gathered in a new museum at Erice some archaeological finds belonging to the Hernandez family collections,  coins and archaeological finds of the Cordici collection and Coppola family and works of art from churches and monasteries.

At the beginning the Museum of Erice was on the ground floor of the Town Hall but in 1939 it moved to the upper floor of the adjoining building.

The new recent location of the Cordici Museum at Erice

From the original location in the rooms adjacent to the municipal library, in 2011 the “A. Cordici Museum”  moved to a new and larger place, the former convent of the third order of St. Francis.

Now it contains several sections: archaeological, decorative arts, weapons, paintings-sculptures and contemporary art. Inside there is also a space for temporary exhibitions.

Archaeological section

The archaeological section is the richest. In this section it is possible to see a marble female head of a divinity, identified  as the head of Venus, goddess of beauty and fertility.

There is also a “pintadera”, terracotta mold with engraved geometric motifs depicting a labyrinth. The Neolithic populations used such tools to imprint colored ornamental designs on their skin.


The work “Breakaway to Egypt” in the Cordici Museum is a masterpiece of the waxwork art. Characters are placed in a naturalistic setting among shrubs, leaves, branches and flowers with little angels.

The art of wax molding has very ancient origins. Egyptians, Phoenicians and Romans used beeswax to create amulets,  jewels and even coins.  The use of wax in Christian iconographic sacred art developed very quickly. Religious institutions and rich people commissioned many artifacts for their homes, as furniture, or as an ex voto.  Florence was the first city in Italy to have a waxwork school and the first workshops.

Erice  had many churches and monasteries so waxwork had a remarkable diffusion as well. The manipulation of the wax and its treatment with other materials were transmitted from the older nuns to the novices. But at Erice wax small statues had some characteristics which differentiated them from the production of other parts of Italy.

Artisans of Erice used wax for votive statues but also for the little characters of the Nativity scene. So, from a purely religious use, the small statues became  valuable objects of art  as furnishing in the homes of aristocrats and bourgeois.
Craftsmen embellished the finely crafted statuettes with silk dresses, ribbons, tulle, coral and necklaces and often put them in glass bells.

The most important works in the Cordici Museum

The Annunciation

Among the most important works in the Cordici Museum there is certainly “the Annunciation” by Antonello Gagini (1525). It comes from the Church of Carmine where there is still a majolica copy.

The noble Giacomo Pilati commissioned the work  for the altar of the church belonging to his family. In fact in the middle of the Annunciation we can see the coat of arms of the Pilati family.

Martha and Magdalene

A painting worthy of admiration is “Martha and Magdalene” by Andrea Carreca, from the Monastery of the Holy Savior. The painting represents the ecstasy of Mary Magdalene after her conversion. Dressed in red, she is the symbol of sin.

Martha, with a silent attitude, partecipates in this atmosphere of high mysticism. She is holding the crucifix.

This large painting shows Caravaggio’s influence. Carreca, a painter from Trapani, was an apprendice at Pietro Novelli’s studio and there he met Caravaggio. In Rome instead he was a disceple of Van Dick’s.

From 1664 to 1670 he lived in Erice where he got married. There he left  several works among which a painting of St. Anne, in the monastery with the same name.

The Crucified by Pietro Orlando

Another valuable work is the massive wooden statue of the Crucified by Pietro Orlando, another sculptor from Trapani. This work reaches its height with the dramatic expression of Christ passing away.

City library

The “Vito Carvini” city library  in Erice is also a consequence of the Siccardi laws. It was officially established in May 1867 when the noumerous and valuable books of the claustral libraries from all monasteries were gathered togheter with the ones of the small city library.

There were four convents in Erice in 1866: the convent of San Francesco, of Carmine, Saint Dominic and the Capuchins, which had very rich libraries. They were mostly books of theological and religious, but also scientific and literary content.

Vito Carvini

Vito Carvini was born in Erice  in 1644. After becoming archpriest of the Mother Church of Erice, he moved again to his native city and remained there until his death.
His name remains tied to the grandiose manuscript work “Ancient and modern sacred and profane Erice”.

With this valuable work, Carvini expanded, supplemented and updated the great work of Cordici. In his work we can find everything about Erice and its huge territory such as origins of families, memories of famous and distinguished men, municipal properties and privileges of the City.

This work shows how great and strong was his love for his City. All the drawings of the views and the ancient finds portrayed by the skilled Matteo Gebbia are beautiful as well. The illustrious architect, for his works, was inspired by pure Renaissance forms.

The Library today

Actually, a rational conservation of the archive started only in 1937 when the Podestà of the time commissioned the librarian Filippo Majorana to arrange all the documents inside the current premises of the Municipal Library.

But a first work of real organization of the archive began only in the 60s.

Today, a section of historical importance is the photographic documentation because it allows us to reconstruct Erice’s life in the most important moments. Landscapes, monuments before and after restoration, portraits of illustrious men.
There are 11 incunabula and several manuscripts. Between these last ones “The history of the city of Monte Erice today called Monte San Giuliano” by Antonio Cordici and “Erice ancient modern sacred and profane” by Vito Carvini.

“Sacred Erice” of Father Master Giuseppe Castronovo contains a detailed description of all the churches and monasteries of the Erice area.
The library keeps also several “cinquecentine”, dating back to the sixteenth century. They include Aristotle’s “Opera Omnia” in 7 volumes, “De Rebus Siculis” by Fazello in 2 volumes, Cicerone’s “Tusculanae”, “Laudies” by Jacopone from Todi.
We can also find an edition of the Bible with splendid drawings by Salvator D’Alì.

MEM’S project

Bishopric of Trapani started in 1998 the project “Erice – The Mountain of the Lord” in order to recover and give new life to the ecclesiastical cultural heritage of Erice.

The purpose of the project is the protection, conservation, restoration and enhancement of the architectural and artistic heritage of the churches of Erice.

The typology of the project MEMS is special. It is like a “diffused museum” or, in other words, a “territory-museum”.

You will learn about the works of artists who have worked in the city over the centuries, in the same places for which they were conceived and realized. At the same time, you will discover a surprising Erice, made of silent and secluded places and you will become the protagonist of a great project to recover the city’s artistic heritage. In fact  all proceeds are for the restoration and maintenance of the churches of Erice.

Saint Matthew agro-forest museum

Saint Matthew is a pleasant spot outside the beaten track on the northern side of Mount  Erice, about two miles from the top. This area is of great naturalistic and cultural interest, with forest of conifers and eucalyptus trees. Its flora present about twenty endemic species, such as the Trapani cabbage and Sicilian limonio, exclusive of the province of Trapani.

Its forest is equipped with wooden tables and benches to allow walkers to stop. At the belvedere we can enjoy  the beautiful view over the plain and the Tyrrhenian sea in the distance.

In the context of a wider project of conservation of biodiversity, a part of the forest has been dedicated since 1989 to the breeding of the donkey from Pantelleria, among the oldest and most prized donkey breeds in Italy.

This place takes its name after a little church with the same name, which today is only a ruin. It was probably an oratory, dating back to a time between the 6th and 7th century. It is still possible to visit the Paleochristian-Byzantine ruins of the Oratory of Saint Matthew.

Near this ancient holy building there was an old “baglio”, a typical building with a wide inner courtyard, very common in this farming area. The baglio was the dwelling of small landowners and breeders.

The ancient “baglio”

“Baglio Cusenza” perched on a rocky edge, nearby Fontanarossa spring, a place know for cool and pure water.

After a restoration, this place housed the agro-forest museum. In the first show room we can see a traditional Sicilian handcart. It is in good condition and has still its original ornaments.  In the second and third rooms there are collections of the most characteristic specimens of the local flora and fauna: bird nest, reptiles and snakes preserved in formalin, and dried forest plants. The museum collects also various ethnographic material of the ancient peasant civilization that inhabited this town such as an old oil mill, domestic furnishings, agricultural tools. In the wide courtyard there are some old ploughshares and a calcareous millstone to mill corn.

The Malacological Museum

According to the mith Venus herself was born from a sea-shell.

The story of the Malacological Museum of Erice is a little sad. For almost 20 years it was open in Erice and its finds were preserved and  displayed in about 87 windows.

At the Malacological museum it was possible to admire very rare and beautiful shells. In the variety of shells there were marine fossils and crustaceans. Inside the museum, it was also possible to visit a rich library .

Unfortunately all this material was abandoned and packaged in warehouses in the hope that one day a malacological museum could be made again.