Natural Landmarks of Sicily: The Ancient Salt Pans
Dating back as far as the reign of the Phoenicians some 2700 years ago, the ancient salt pans of western Sicily, between Trapani and Marsala, are still being used today, and over the years have played a hugely important role in the daily life of thousands of Mediterranean and European people.
The combination of the hot African winds, shallow coastal waters and the long, sun-drenched summer days provides the perfect conditions for salt-making, which was hugely important in the preservation of food before refrigeration came along.
Stagnone, the largest lagoon in Italy, is the main area of salt production, situated just a few miles north of Marsala, and is well worth a visit. Not only is Stagnone the traditional home of salt-making, but is also a designated marine nature reserve home to a variety of wildlife as well as an archipelago of four uninhabited islands. Windmills dot the horizon at the Stagnone’s salt pans – a remnant of how salt was once produced, pumping water through the sluice gates in and out of the various basins. Beneath the road and the basins lie piles of harvested salt covered with terracotta tiles.
Along the western coast of Sicily, the production of salt reached its peak in the 1860s, with 31 salt pans producing over 100,000 tonnes per year, exported as far afield as Norway and Russia. Today, the salt produced here is largely produced for a niche market, gastronomes who swear by the salt’s unique qualities – being 100% natural and containing a higher proportion of potassium and magnesium, the flavour is much enhanced, and works especially well with fish dishes.
If you’d like to learn more about the salt pans of western Sicily while on your villa holiday, a museum dedicated to the salt industry can be found on the banks of the lagoon midway between Marsala and Trapani, telling the story of how the salt pans developed and functioned throughout the centuries. From here, you can also take a ferry over to Isola San Pantaleo, home to the fascinating Phoenician archaeological site of Mothya. Alternatively, you can simply take in the spectacular views offered as you walk along the salt pans, which are particularly dazzling at sunset.
Image: UlyssesThirtyOne, available under Creative Commons