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Underground Sicily

Among the jobs belonging to the oldest Sicilian tradition, the “solfataro” (miner) is the most disturbing. Sicilian people used to assimilate those unfortunate workers to diabolic figures coming from hell. In the former industrial site Le Ciminiere in Catania, an old complex of buildings once used to process sulfur and now site of important cultural events, part of the structure is dedicated to the memory of those boys who worked in dark underground tunnels to excavate sulfur, facing perpetual risk of collapses and fires.

The sulfur mines area stretched from Caltanissetta to Agrigento, and in 1834, when the activity was more profitable and Sicilian sulfur was sold to the North Europe markets, consisted of 196 “solfatare” (sulfur mines). Later, when new American techniques of extracting sulfur prevailed on the old traditional ones, sulfur mines faced a hard crisis and then disappeared.

The surroundings of Caltanissetta are marked by a bare and desolate landscape, with yellowish hills dotted with holes and tunnels. “ Discenderie” , narrow corridors once used by “carusi” (little boys) carrying sulfur up to the surface on their backs, are still visitable, as well as “ calcaroni” , the furnaces where sulfur was burned to separate it from “ganga” (clay, limestone and chalk).

“Latomie” (quarries) are another example of the centuries-old relation between men and rocks. They are surface pits used to extract white limestone and irregularly excavated out of mountains. The resulting quarries are dotted with dizzy tunnels and host a luxuriant vegetation. In Sicily, Syracuse' Latomie are among the most renowned and visited by tourists. Stone diggers have handed down the tricks of their trade over the centuries: once found the limestone, they outlined a cylinder (called rocchio) and carved it all around ouf the rock until it split off.

Le Ciminiere in Catania

Le Solfatare

Latomie of Syracuse

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