road from Trapani to Marsala skirts round the edge of the lagoon
and the island of Mozia (see MOZIA) providing fine views of the
local saltworks: panels of mirror-like water, held by thin strips
of earth, synchronise to form an irregular and multicoloured scene.
In places, the profile of a windmill may be discerned, a reminder
of times past when they provided the main means of pumping the water
and grinding the salt. The sight is even more striking in summer
when the salt is ready to be collected: then, the pinkish hues of
the concentrated saline contained in the outer pans vie with those
towards the centre of a deeper colour, while the innermost, now
dry, sparkle in the sunshine.
1984, Sicily’s largest lagoon (2000 ha) has been designated
a nature reserve of special interest – Riserva Naturale Orientata.
This area extends into the sea, and includes the section of coastline
between Punta Alga and Capo San Teodoro. The water here is shallow
and very salty, the ideal conditions for saltworks to be set up
all along the coast and on Isola Longa, where it soon became the
main industry; many of these have since dwindled into disuse.
lagoon harbours four islands: Isola Longa is the largest, Santa
Maria is covered in vegetation, San Pantaleo is the most important
and Schola, a tiny islet with a few roofless houses that give it
an eerie air of decadence.
most common plant species to thrive here include the Aleppo pine,
dwarf palm, bamboo (Isola Grande), sea marigold (Calendula maritima)
which, in Europe, grows only here and in Spain, glasswort or sea
samphire (with fleshy branches), sea scilla with its star-like white
flowers, the sea lily and the sea rush. The islands are also populated
with a multitude of bird species, namely the lark, goldfinch, magpie,
Kentish plover, tawny pipit and Sardinian warbler – to mention
but a few.
waters of the Stagnone (which literally means large pool) provide
fertile habitats for a broad variety of under-water flora and fauna:
sea anemones, murex – collected by the Phoenicians so as to
extract a valuable purple dye used for colouring textiles, and over
40 different kinds of fish: sea bass, gilthead, white bream and
sole. The seabed also supports colonies of the Poseidonia Oceanica,
a ribbon-leafed seaweed which grows in clusters and produces flowers
not unlike an ear of wheat from its centre. This plant is fast becoming
a menace to others, spreading itself through the Mediterranean like
wild-fire: its contribution, however, is to thrive in polluted and
slightly stagnant conditions; it stabilises the seabed, oxygenates
the water and provides a source of nutrients for other species,
thereby playing a role similar to that of the forests on land.
origins – The coastal area between Trapani and Marsala came
to be exploited back in the time of the Phoenicians who, realising
the extremely favourable conditions available, set about building
basins in which to collect salt: this valuable commodity they then
exported all over the Mediterranean. So this otherwise barren stretch
of land came to be systematically worked: from the shallow water,
the searing temperatures and arid winds (which also facilitates
evaporation of course) was born a tough, but beneficial industry
to produce the precious element, so vital to the survival of man.
One of the foremost and fundamental properties of salt is its ability
to preserve food, a quality with which the earliest peoples were
familiar, using it to treat perishables for the lean winter months
or simply during transportation. After the Phoenicians, however,
there are no reliable references to the saltpans around Trapani
until the Norman era when Frederick Il himself alludes to them in
the Constitutions of Menfi, making them a crown monopoly. From this
date on, the rise in status of the port of Trapani may be tracked
fairly easily. The economic success of the saltpans, meanwhile,
show that major fluctuations in output shadowed the rise and fall
in fortunes of the territory as it succumbed to various external
events beyond its control. War, epidemic, transitions of government
from one dominion to another influenced the production and trading
of salt just as it would any other field. On the whole, the area
was profitable, as was the commercial activity itself, and that
is why it has continued, albeit with fits and starts, until the
present day. The salt is still being extracted, although the methods
used (and the effort expended) have changed as processes have become
mechanised. The picturesque windmills that characterise the landscape
are no longer employed and the back-breaking demands on the manual
workers have been minimised.
29 km excursion between Trapani and Marsala along the SP 21: allow
a whole day to include a visit to the Island of Mozia.
– See TRAPANI,
Trapani, follow the coast road (SP 21) to Marsala which provides
a succession of fine views over the saltpans of Trapani and those
at Stagnone. The first stop is Nubia.
– The headquarters of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (138 Via
Garibaldi) manages the Riserva Naturale Salma di Trapani e Paceco,
a saltwater nature reserve habitat where 170 species of bird –
resident and migratory – have been recorded. Indeed, it is
not unusual to see migrating flamingos, storks, cranes and herons.
del Sale – A small, yet highly interesting salt museum has
been set up in a 300-year old saltworkers house: it recounts the
different stages involved in collecting salt from the saltpans and
displays various specialist tools adapted for its extraction and
its harvest including mill gearing, windmill vanes, cog wheels,
spikes and sprockets. Additional information about the methods and
practices are further clarified by means of explanatory boards and
photographs of saltworkers in
saline – The saltworks in front of the museum successfully
explain how and why the different saltpans interact, as well as
describing the successive phases in the cultivation and extraction
of the crystallised salt. An appropriated canal supplements the
two large basins on the outer edge of the complex known as the fridde
(a corruption of ‘freddo’ meaning cold) because of the
temperature of the incoming water. The Mulino Americano (literally
the American mill) located between these two basins uses an Archimedes’
screw contraption (of a type displayed in the museum) to transfer
water into the vasu cultivu, where it blends with the yeast-like
residue of the previous crop. The greater the saline concentration
(measured in Baum), interestingly enough, the warmer the water.
From here, the water is drained to the ruffiana an intermediary
stage between the vasu and the caure. where the water temperature
is considerably warmer and the salinity attains 23 Baum. Next in
line comes the sintino where the high concentration of salt and
the high temperature combine to lend a pinkish tinge to the solution:
and so begin the last stages in the process. The water now passes
into the salting pans or caseddri, where layers of pure salt crystals
are allowed to form (27-28 Baum) in preparation for harvest twice
a year, usually around mid-July and mid-August. The conical piles
of sand, aligned the length of the arione, are left open to the
elements to be rinsed through by the rain, before being covered
with “Roman” tiles for protection from heavy downpours
Nubia, return to the main road and continue towards the Stagnone
Lagoon, where the most spectacular saltpans are located. A sign
indicates the way to the Ettore e Infersa saltworks.
windmill – This 16C (or so) windmill, once indispensable for
grinding salt, survives today solely because of the love and attention
vested upon it by its owners (Saline Ettore e Infersa); presently
restored to working order, it demonstrates what is involved and
inspires a romantic fascination in the practises of yore in the
young minds of modern generations.
Dutch windmill comprises a conical building, capped with a conical
roof, and six trapezoid vanes consisting of cloth sails attached
to wooden frames that catch the wind and propel a system of mechanical
gears. Inside the building, a complex system of interconnected cogs
and wheels, shafts and stays allow the circular roof (and, hence,
the sails) to be orientated according to the direction of the wind
and so exploit the natural resource to grind the salt (as in this
case) or to pump water (if the windmill is situated between two
pans). Should the mill be required to pump water, the gearing is
harnessed to an Archimedes’ screw.
sails can rotate at a speed of 20km per hour and generate a power
equivalent to 120 horsepower (30/40 HP are required to activate
the grinder in the ground floor rooms alone).
(Motya) – See MOZIA
coast road picks its way to Marsala along a most pleasant route,
which can be particularly spectacular at sunset.
– See MARSALA.
Campobello Di Mazara
Castellammare Del Golfo
Mazara Del Vallo
San Vito Lo Capo
Saline Dello Stagnone
Isola Di Formica
Cave Di Cusa
Scivoletto e Michelin Italia. Le foto sono di proprietà
dei rispettivi autori. Ogni riproduzione non autorizzata verrà
perseguita a norma di legge.
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Guide of Sicily
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