Pepoli Turret in Erice: an observatory for peace

The Pepoli family

We will tell the story of Count Agostino Pepoli, who built the Turret with his name.

Now we will start from Pepoli family. Who are they? The noble Pepoli family originates from Bologna. They ruled in Bologna in the first half of the 14th century.
The Pepoli branch of Trapani descended from them through Sigerio Pepoli, who came to Sicily as Frederick II‘s imperial knight.

In fact  “Sieri” or Sigerio arrived in Sicily in the 14th century. Towards the end of the XVI century, his family added the surname Pepoli becoming Sieripepoli, and later barons Sieri Pepoli.
Over the centuries, members of the family have held important positions. Closer to us, in 1827, Riccardo Sieri Pepoli was mayor of Trapani. He also promoted the Marino Sieri Pepoli Hospice.

The Marin Hospice and Children’s Hospital Riccardo Sieri Pepoli

This is a huge structure placed in a very special location,  Isolotto Zavorra. It stands in the extreme tip of the “Reserve of Trapani and Paceco Saltpans”, next to the area of the port of Trapani. And It also includes 21 hectares of salt pans  that surround the structure.
Though the construction has the name Riccardo Sieri Pepoli, it is due to the philanthropist  Antonio Sieri Pepoli. He donated his property for the construction of an institute for those poor children suffering from diseases such as the rickety, for which the marine environment was beneficial.

After that, they announced a competition for the realization of the project, whose winner was the engineer Giuseppe Manzo (1858-1931). His project was  really great.

The same engineer has built the small villa on a rock for the politician Nunzio Nasi.
Later he projected other important health buildings such as the “Serraino Vulpitta” Hospice and the Psychiatric Hospital, the latter completed by the engineer Gaspare di Maggio.

The neglect of the Marin Hospice

The Marin Hospice has always been an important building for Trapani, although a bit isolated and spooky. In the 20s it was a marine colony. In 1939 a hospital for typhoid patients. From the 60s to the 90s it became ” Sieri Pepoli Marin Hospice ” and it welcomed neglected or orphaned children.
Then it turned into a nursing home for the elderly. From one day to the next it became a reception center for immigrants. At the time taking care of immigrants seemed more profitable than looking after the old people.
Since 2016 it has been neglected. Inside everything is destroyed. Everything has been turned upside down and the windows removed. All the facilities have been vandalized and the toilets destroyed. It is very sad to see it reduced this way.

In the 60s there was also a small nice beach where children could play safely. It was a little oasis, in an enchanting landscape. From here you can see the port of Trapani from the sea. The city looks quite nice from here.
Count Riccardo Sieri Pepoli would be sad to see how poorly his hospice has turned now.

Life of Agostino Sieri Pepoli

The Count Agostino Sieri Pepoli (1848-1910) was son of Riccardo. He purchased the Pepoli palace in Bologna in 1887. In 1906, also thanks to  the collections of his uncle Michele, he founded the Regional Pepoli Museum in Trapani.
After attending a college of Siena he  went first to Florence and then to Bologna to improve his knowledge in history, philosophy and art. Anyway he never achieved a degree.
In Florence he attended the studio of Giovanni Duprè, a sculptor whose style was between naturalism and academicism, but anyway able to create high-quality works.

Agostino as sculptor

Following the teachings of Duprè, Agostino tried his hand at sculpture, with two half-length portraits of Leonardo Ximenes in Florence. One was in plaster and the other in marble. He made them respectively for the “Royal Liceum ” and the “Fardelliana Library” of Trapani.
In these portraits he showed a search for the naturalism and an adherence to the actual appearance of Ximenes, which he knew from prints or drawings. Probably Agostino had seen  portraits of Ximenes in Florence because in 1756 Ximenes founded the Astronomical Observatory of “San Giovannino” which still has his name.

In his marble portrait, placed in the small garden in front of the entrance of Pepoli Museum, he showed more technical mastery. He drew himself with a beard and thick hair, with a bow tie.
Probably Agostino Pepoli designed also the watering hole in Via Agostino Pepoli, near the sanctuary of the Annunciation. It is an early 20th century architecture, intertwined with medieval, Romanesque and Gothic reminiscences and Moorish and Renaissance motifs. You can see the Pepoli family crest several times in the sink.

The restoration of towers in Erice

Around 1870, just over twenty years old, the count Agostino moved to Erice, where he devoted himself to the search for archaeological material.
His education and love for culture, antiquity and art led him to gather a considerable number of Erice finds with the same passion that led Antonio Cordici in the 600s to collect so many “antiques”.

He made contact with the Municipality for the concession of the park commonly called the Runzi and the advanced towers of the castle. He decided to restore them using drawings by Matteo Gebbia, inserted in the manuscript by Vito Carvini (1682).
Almost all the material found by Pepoli comes from the castle and the gorge below it.
He modified the surrounding space with an esplanade to reach via a small road the western part of the castle. He arranged what today is the English garden of the “balio“.
The restoration work by Pepoli aroused enormous criticism, but thanks to his strong will and  the support of his friends he completed his proposal around 1880.

Pepoli Turret

In those same years he had the “Torretta Pepoli” built. This is a building  vaguely in liberty style, where he would go to study and meditate with friends and scholars.
He often stayed In Erice, especially in summer, and there he received illustrious friends. We can deduce that from old photos and numerous letters from his archive.

Here he worked on the project of his museum, which represented the first goal of his life. For it, he collected the most significant testimonies of the regional, national and European territory.

Among the illustrious friends he received at the turret, there were the writer Ugo Antonio Amico, the artist Alberto Favara, the minister Nunzio Nasi. But also the scholar Giuseppe Pagoto, a professor of literature, historian and farmer.
We know better Samuel Butler, English writer also popular for his writings on history and literary criticism. Butler was also a translator of the Iliad and the Odyssey.
Surely we have heard of Antonino Salinas, numismatist and archaeologist, the director of the Archaeological Museum of Palermo. A long friendship linked him to Salinas: together they would talk of archeology and look for  archaeological materials. Together they discovered the alphabetic signs engraved on the walls of Erice.

We have heard of Antonio Scontrino, composer and double bass player, especially good in chamber symphonic music.
The count used some advice of Antonio Scontrino to compose Mercedes, a melodrama in three acts. He wrote it between 1892 and 1893 almost by bet. The opera tells of the love affairs and regrets of four characters: Mercedes and Pedrito, Nina and Annio. It was represented at the Garibaldi theater in Trapani on March 23, 1907, exactly three years before the day of count’s death. It was the only time that the opera went on stage.

Pepoli Turret in Erice

The recent restoration of Pepoli Turret

It lasted from 2010 to 2014. Now it is an Observatory for Peace in the Mediterranean.

This means, it takes care of all the issues concerning human rights. It promotes international cooperation and the encounter between different Mediterranean cultures and religions.

The observatory wants to be a light for peace and to release a message of hope.

For this reason the renovated Turret was inaugurated on the occasion of the “Fly for Peace” event. The inauguration featured a Palestinian, an Israeli and a Syrian, which represent different religions and peoples in conflict.

Inside there is a small innovative museum. It is a journey through Erice  history, culture, myth and tradition , told by the same voice of Count Agostino. For that there are a series of multimedia installations created by young experts.
In the Pepoli Turret there is also a recording booth with an internet system to allow young people and any visitors to declare commitments and proposals for action to promote peace in the Mediterranean.
I think the count would have been happy.

Agostino’s project of a museum

Collecting works of art was a family passion for the Pepoli. Agostino’s father, Riccardo, and uncle Michele were collectors.

Actually, wealthy and intellectual classes loved to collect objects, ordering, cataloging and displaying them. Starting from 17th century it has been an European trend.
The presence in Erice of numerous archaeological material, such as prehistoric, Elymian, Punic, Greek and Roman ones, offered inspiration to intellectuals and nobles. Starting from the XVII century, they collected coins and “antiques”, a term used to define the objects of the past.

Pepoli Museum in Trapani

At first, Agostino wanted to arrange all the material found at Erice in the Spanish Quarter and proposed it to the Municipality of Erice. But the proposal didn’t get approval because the moderate liberal oligarchy, to which Pepoli had never adhered, opposed it.
Embittered and disappointed, the count began to slowly detach himself from Erice, until he transferred to Trapani all the archaeological material he had collected. It would then flow into the Civic Museum he founded.