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Mattanza

Villas in west Sicily

Egadi IslandsA centuries-old tradition, the Egadi Islands’ mattanza (ritual tuna slaughter) survives despite the ever-decreasing number of tuna fish swimming into local waters each year. For centuries, schools of tuna have used the waters around western Sicily as a mating ground. Locals can recall the golden days of the island’s fishing industry, when it was not uncommon to catch giant breeding tuna of 200kg or 300kg - and even the odd 500kg freak. Fish of that size are rare these days, and the annual catch is increasingly smaller, due to the worldwide overfishing of tuna.

Now that the slaughter of tuna can no longer support the island’s economy, mattanza is more and more becoming a tourist attraction. From around 20 May to 10 June you may witness the event and join the fishers in their boats while catching tuna. This is not a nice show, though, if you have a weak stomach. It’s not an ordinary fishing expedition: fishers arrange their boats and nets in a complex formation, in order to push tuna into a series of enclosures culminating in the camera della morte (chambers of death). Once tunas are imprisoned, the fishers close in and the mattanza begins (the word is derived from the Spanish word for killing). It is a bloody affair - up to eight or more fishermen together grab fish with huge hooks and drag it on board. Whoever has seen Rossellini’s classic movie Stromboli will no doubt recall the famous mattanza scene.

Villas in west Sicily

Mattanza ritual

Tuna Capture

Setting up for the Mattanza

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