You can easily reach the Spanish Quarter after crossing Porta Spada. The Spanish Quarter is a robust construction, begun in the seventeenth century to house a garrison of Spanish soldiers, but never completed. It rises on the western end of a wide rocky platform, outside the walls, near the churches of Saint Ursula and Saint Anthony.
The view from there is something of unusual beauty. Your eye can range from the Sicilian Channel to the Tyrrhenian Sea, capturing in all its beauty the coastal part between Mount Cofano and the Bonagia Tuna Trap.
The history of the Spanish Quarter
From 1424 to 1630, the period of Spanish domination in Sicily, one of the major causes of the exodus of poor families and not only from the cities was the obligation of the cutlery. In fact, the Government imposed an obligation on the cities to offer free food and lodging to the garrison soldiers.
Following constant and worried requests, in the early seventeenth century, the Viceregal Government finally authorized the Universitas to build a barracks at their own expense to house the Spanish infantry stationed in Erice.
After long vicissitudes, in 1627, the construction began.
The project involved the construction of a large building behind the church of Saint Anthony.
However, the work didn’t arrive to its end. We don’t know the reasons for such abandonment. Perhaps it was due to the transfer of that military garrison to other places or to the expulsion of the Spaniards from Sicily. We only know that this picturesque ruin remained abandoned for centuries. The population considered it a site of ghosts, while the shepherds brought their flocks there. Over time the building became increasingly dilapidated due to the collapse of some parts.
Count Agostino Pepoli project
Towards the end of the nineteenth century Count Agostino Pepoli proposed to the Municipal Administration to completely restore the whole building at his own expense. He wonted to house in it the precious archaeological finds discovered by him. He would also have added works of art, paintings, statues and precious jewels, majolica, plastics, coins from the family heritage.
Sadly, the Municipal Administration didn’t accept his proposal. Count Pepoli, disappointed, moved to Trapani to carry out his prestigious project of building a museum.
The restoration of the Spanish Quarter
Completely restored, today the Spanish Quarter is used as a tourist-cultural reception center. In recent years the place hosts two exhibitions. One is “Arts and Crafts of the past” where it is possible to observe tools of rural life. In 2015, in another side of the building, was inaugurated a multimedia exhibition of Trapani sea activities “Erice, land of the sea” .
In the Spanish Quarter there is also an excellent restaurant, “Gli Archi di San Carlo”
The legend of Red beret
A legend tells that on stormy nights you can feel the spirit of a garrison soldier, called ” Birrittedda russa”. He can’t find any peace for the violent death suffered.
According to legend, a young Spanish soldier had begun to court a girl engaged to an Erice man. The latter, after discovering the matter, threatened the soldier of death, if he would go on with his courtship. In response the soldier killed the man in a moment of anger. For this crime he was sentenced to the gallows.
After the execution in the square a gust of wind took away from the head of the hanged man the red cap that was part of his uniform. That sudden wind impressed the audience. Immediately afterwards strange phenomena began to appear in Erice. In the Spanish quarter people heard strange voices and spotted in the fog evanescent figures. So they began to talk about a ghost, Birrittedda Russa, that is, red beret. He would still be around there without peace.