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Sicily and the Sea

The Saline (salt-pans) in the surroundings of Trapani were first described by Arab geographer Idrisi in the XII century. In 1995 they have been included within a Natural Reserve and are a unique environment, an ideal habitat for migrant and non migrant birds.

Along the coast between Trapani and Marsala the landscape is characterized by windmills, huge basins for the evaporation of seawater and white salt heaps. As the exhibition in Museo del Sale in Nubia shows, the process of salt production is quite long. It consists of several phases: first of all, a stony dam (“traversa”) lets salt water flow inside a big basin (“vasca fridda”), where it gets purified by depositing its sediment; then windmills (there were two kinds: the American one, with 24 metal sails, and the Dutch one, with 6 wooden sails) pump water into smaller basins (“vasi”), where it gets mixed (“coltivata”) with salified water (“acqua madre”) and reaches a high level of salinity, until final crystallization of sodium chloride; after the summer salt harvesting, salt is piled up in heaps (“munzuneddi”) to dry under the sun, and it's preserved with clay tiles.

Western Sicily coast is also renowned for Tonnare. “Thunnus Thynus” is one of most renowned species in the world for its high-quality red flesh. Even Japanese appreciate it, and come buy it to Sicily for their traditional “sushi”. Among the countless “tonnare” on the island, the one in Favignana is still working. It is renowned for the miracolous fishing in 1865, when it captured 14,020 tunas in its trap! A “tonnara” usually consists of a complex of buildings called “marfaraggio”, where fish is washed, cut and dried, and it's also endowed with a sighting tower. Besides Favignana, other picturesque “tonnare” may be found in Scopello, Castellammare del Golfo, San Vito lo Capo, Bonagia and Mazara del Vallo.

The proper “tonnara”, the system of nets and tunnels purposedly designed by “tonnaroti” to catch fish, is lowered in the sea around May, when tunas search for warm water in order to spawn. It consists of a series of corridors and chambers made with nets, which finally lead fish to the so called “ camera della morte” . Nets are laid down in deep water and then slowly raised, leaving tunas no room to move. Once brought to the surface, they begin to thrash about in confusion and fear. Then, on the boats circling around the nets, the leader (called “rais” ) gives the signal and fishermen start to harpoon tunas with sharpened spears, while singing traditional songs to beat time for the rite. Seawater turns red with blood, and men fight with tunas while lifting them on their boats. That is what makes “mattanza” an astonishing as well as ferocious show.

Saltpans near Trapani

Il Museo del Sale

Tonnara Florio in Favignana

The Tonnara in Scopello

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