Photographer's Note

The 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.

Since 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.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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.

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.


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Additional Photos by Giuseppe Maria Galasso (gmg) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 357 W: 74 N: 188] (4202)
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