Menfi is a unique Sicilian municipality not far from the southern coast, near the western tip of the island. Its hilly territory slopes down to the sea and is crossed by the Belice and Caeboj rivers. The presence of the Belice River is precisely what started the history of the human settlements of Menfi and today its mouth is part of a protected area together with the dune beach.
The history of the area is very ancient even if the current housing nucleus is more recent. In an area near the mouth of the Belice River, it is believed that the ancient city of Inico was located, the main centre of the Sicans, where Kokalos or Cocalo lived.
The Sicans were a local population that lived in Sicily before the arrival of the Greeks. Their king Cocalo was the main character of one of the famous stories of Greek mythology concerning the hospitality given to Daedalus after his escape from Crete.
Daedalus was a brilliant architect and sculptor and had created the famous Labyrinth of King Minos of Crete. The king had tried to kill them, but Daedalus and his son Icarus had managed to escape by building wings with bird feathers.
Minos’ anger was strong and he devised a trick to find Daedalus: he launched a challenge asking how to pass some thread inside the spiral of a shell. Daedalus succeeded with the help of an ant and honey but Minos recognized the genius of Daedalus and asked Cocalo to kill him.
Legend has it that Cocalo’s daughters carried out the orders and took Daedalus’s life in a bathtub, where they had made him sit with the excuse of obtaining eternal youth. The great Greek tragedian Sophocles wrote a tragedy on the story of Daedalus and Cocalo.
In 650 BC the Greek conquerors arrived and found some colonies including the nearby prestigious Selinunte and in the past the area of Borgo Palo was one of the ports of the city.
Not much is known of Roman history but a Roman-Byzantine necropolis was found under Palazzo Pignatelli, where the castle of the city was once located.
The first written reports of settlements refer to a small centre inhabited by the first Christians who were part of the Diocese of Girgenti. The church had in fact tried to maintain order after the fall of the Roman empire by organizing the territory into dioceses with bishops.
The Arabs arrived in Sicily in 840 and created agricultural colonies in this area of Sicily with a small Arab settlement around a small fort. Soil fertility combined with the presence of waterways has always favoured excellent agricultural production here.
In the VI century AD. C. the geographer Stefano da Bisanzio mentioned the great quality of the wines of this area while telling the story of the ancient city of Inico.
In 1093 the Normans conquered the island, expelled the Arabs and called this settlement Casale di Burgionilluso, which means its flourishing village.
Frederick II also came to Memphis to quell a revolt by driving away the dissidents. In 1230 he built a leper colony, entrusted to the Knights of San Lazzaro, and in 1239 a castle with a tower and a fortified centre to repopulate the area. But he did not live long and the centre was almost abandoned.
Under the Aragonese rule at the end of the thirteenth century the barony of Burgiomilluso was created which was given as a fiefdom to Corrado Rodolfo Manuele.
During the Spanish dominion in Sicily, the fiefdom came through weddings to the Tagliavia family, a Sicilian family who had arrived in Sicily many centuries earlier with Federico II of Swabia, and, in 1518, Giovanni Vincenzo Tagliavia began the construction of a farm. In 1549, the Burgiomilluso Barony became part of the County of Borsetto, and in this period the watchtower was built in Porto Palo being finished in 1583.
But even this nucleus did not become inhabited and it was not until 1638 that saw the foundation of the current Menfi thanks to Diego Tagliavia Aragona Pignatelli, married to a niece of Fernando Cortes, who granted some land to the peasants for the construction of their homes.
Peasants were needed to grow the wheat required by the Spanish crown and the pact followed the edict of Philip II of Spain who granted 4-5 hectares to farmers to be able to dedicate to the cultivation of vines for those who produced wheat.
It was the Pignatelli family that started the city of Menfi and built the first noble palace, partly demolishing the castle of Federico II of which only the tower remains visible, and the church of the Madonna delle Grazie.
In 1683, Burgiomilluso became an autonomous municipality with the name of Terre di Menphis and the area entered the Principality of Castelvetrano. The town grew thanks to the flourishing agriculture and the presence of the port which in the meantime had been put back into operation.
In 1812, during the Napoleonic period, feudalism was abolished and the city took the current name of Menfi. The tower of Frederick II became a prison for a certain period and was then given to the municipality.
The citizens of Menfi took part in some uprisings of the carboneria in the Risorgimento period, but in general the situation of Menfi during the nineteenth century was flourishing mainly due to the presence of the port, which is separate from that of nearby Sciacca, and the railway that connects it in Castelvetrano.
It seems that Porto Palo had been chosen as the docking port for the Expedition of the Thousand of Garibaldi, but the presence of Bourbon ships made Marsala preferred.
In 1968 the city was severely affected by the Belice earthquake and the Sun-shaped door is one of the symbols of its rebirth with the reconstruction of the town.
Today Menfi is a seaside city characterized by some excellent features such as DOC wines, olive oil and the production of artichokes. Its wine cellars are known all over the world and attract expert wine tasters and tourists. The wines are known by coming from the vineyards of the Terre Sicane District, kissed by the sun and cooled by sea breezes.