Resting at the foot of Monte Bonifato, the town of Alcamo, like so many in Sicily, has ancient roots and a medieval soul. The town of 45,000 residents sits above the Gulf of Castellammare, just inland, with the frazione of Marina di Alcamo at the seaside. At 256 meters ( feet) above sea level, it was in a defensive position where strongholds and castles were built to keep the inhabitants safe for a few millennia. Archeological finds show there was a Mesolithic presence here 6,000 years BC, along finds from the Neolithic era. A Greek colony that fled Troy were here with the name Longuro, then the Romans who called in Longaricum. The current name dates from the Arab period, al'Qamah, possibly referring to the fertile land, or possibly a proper name for a person. It is known that Alcamo was named in 1154 as Alqamah by an Arab cartographer, and by Arab travelers.

Alcamo saw the various invaders and rulers that took over Sicily and much of southern Italy - the Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Swabians, Aragons, and feudal lords. In the 1400s it was an important town of commerce and artisan goods, especially iron works (blacksmiths), leather tanners, textiles, and agricultural goods like grains and wine. Alcamo was walled in the 1500s, with four gateways into town: Porta Palermo, Porta Corleone, Porta di Gesu, and Porta Trapani. There had been a synagogue and Jewish district (the San Calogero quarter, the curent Via Matteotti had been called Via della Sinagoga.) The town attracted cultural life with poets and artists, but fell into hard times with a series of epidemics, the world wars, and emigration. It suffered some negative notoriety in the 1980s with Mafia turf wars between the Greco clan the emerging Corleonesi. However, in recent years, it has seen a Renaissance of restoration to bring the historic buildings back to life - redoing the castle, theater, Arab fountain, Chiesa del Collegio and others. There is a contemporary art museum called MACA, an Arte Sacra museum, and multi-ethnic musical instruments museum.

Walk around town and take in the many palazzi that were built in the 1700s, there are two dozen of them, some imposing like Palazzo de Ballis, others with ornate stone and iron work like Palazzo Fraccia. There are also more than a dozen churches, artwork, pretty corners, decorative details, and a sense of timelessness. Beyond town is the Bosco di Alcamo nature reserve and Mount Bonifato, while just a few miles down is the glimmer gulf and its beaches at the Marina di Alcamo.

Around town:

Piazza Ciullo is the primary public space, while Piazza della Repubblica is a nice park-like green space.

Don't miss the lovely Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta, restored and showing off its rose marble columns, the stone came from Mt Bonifato, with decorative stuccoes, chandeliers and art-adorned side chapels. Attached in the former monastery is the basilica museum, with some truly impressive works.

Santuario Madonna dei Miracoli was built in the 1500s owing to an apparition of the Madonna to some townspeople who were washing clothing in the stream. She is the patron saint of Alcamo, and the church is beautiful with an ornate bas relief carving surrounding the painted image of the Virgin Mary and Christ Child. They celebrate her feast day with a three day event every June 19-21, with religious celebrations, a procession and civic fun.

The Castello dei Conti di Modica is a centerpiece of town, the massive structure built in 1350. It has four towers and an inner courtyard, and houses a museum and hosts special exhibits and events.

The Castello di Calatubo, on the other hand, is in ruins, the remains really lovely on a ridge between Alcamo and the Marina di Alcamo, the former fortress providing sweeping views.

The Arab fountain is a two-spout water fountain, and the Cuba delle Rose was a cistern and long rectangular water basin. Be sure to look for them!

Monte Bonifato and Nature Reserve Bosco d'Alcamo provide pristine outdoors activities in the hills and woods with hiking paths and a lot of flora to admire, along with the views and cooler air.

After hiking, head to the Terme Segestane hot springs to soak the aches and enjoy some relaxation.

And of course, the Marina di Alcamo offers beaches, water sports, and waterfront walks.

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