After sadly leaving Mazara del Vallo (too soon!!!) I drove just 1 hour heading to the city of Marsala. Event those who are not yet familiar with Sicily might have heard this name because it’s also a wine. Not any wine but one of those that are halfway between a regular wine and a liquor, which is highly appreciated by the bakers as it enhance the taste of many cakes.
However, my vsit to Marsala didn’t involve the wine making process as I happened to be there on a Sunday when wine cellars are closed to the public with no exception. I choose to visit Marsala for two reasons: the Unification of Italy and the Salt Pans.
A little foreword is needed here: Italy is a Republic since 1946. Before such date Italy was a Kingdom, ruled by the Savoy Family, based in the city where I live, Torino, which was the first capital of the Country. Italy became a united kingdom in 1861. Before this date, the Country was divided into several smaller states, each ruled by a different royal family, most of which were foreigners. Sicily was part of a state called Kingdom of the 2 Sicilies, ruled by the Spanish royal family. While northern and central Italy were set free by the Savoy army, with the huge support of the French one, Southern Italy was set free by a group of 1000 volunteers, all wearing a red jacket, who sailed from the port of Genova, all the way along the tirrenian coast and docked in Marsala, led by the general Garibaldi. No battle at all was happened with the locals, neither with the spanish army: the people of Sicily was sick and tired of being dominated by a foreign power who was taking to much of the islans’s resources, thus they gladly supported these 1000 peaceful soldiers and a plebiscitus to join the kingdom of Savoy took place.
That is why every italian city must name a street or a piazza to the hero of the expedition: Garibaldi! This is Via Garibaldi in Marsala which starts right in front of the exact place where he docked with his 1000 followers..
In front of Marsala there is lagoon, commonly referred to by the locals as “Stagnone”. The water here is very salty, more than double compared to the water of the sea. Moreover the average depth of the lagoon spans from a minimum of 50 cm up to 2 meters, thus making it pretty still and very good for taking the salt out of it.
From central Marsala I drove along the coastline for approximately 20 minutes until I reached the salt pans area located at “Contrada Spagnola”, were I parked my car. This is the place where you can see the extent of the Salt Pans which change their colors many times during the day depending on the orientation and the intensity of the sunlight.
This is a place where you can also see the traditionl wind mills that are commonly associated to the Netherlands. They were used here also and in some cases they are still active. The wind mills were intended to pump the water of the sea inside the pans. You cannot count how many pans are there, among which just one has a direct exchange of water with the lagoon. All the others are meant to allow the sea salt to deposit, at first, and then emerge on the surface creating sort of a crust called “fior di sale”.
The pans towards the coast line turn into a pink shade due to the presence of a microorganism of the crustaceans family of which Flamingoes are very gluttonous, thus you can see many around here. The salt procuded at these pans is called “Integrale”. It meand that the professional salt extractors do only take the salt out of the pans, avoiding carefully to also thake any sediment out of it, while at other pans, where extraction is done with machines the salt is still good but may contain traces of sediments, thus it cannot be called Integrale.
There is a little private island in the middle of the lagoon called Mothia, which is a former Phoenician colony and you can still see the remains of some buildings, mostly the foundations, including the basin they created to repair their ships and an underwater road used to allow cars to reach the mainland with goods, as if they were running over the water. There is a small museum run by the Withaker Foundation (the owner of the Island) as well some small vineyards and olive trees. I took a small boat and reached Mothia, where I stayed for a couple of hours.
In Sicily you can see fig-cactus everywhere and Mothia is no exception. You must contain your joy when you see a similar plant because these specific figs have several very hard thorns, thus you need a special tool to harvest them. Don’t do it with your hands.
The Lagoon is very windy and that is why is pretty well known also within the international community of sky surfers. From Mothia you can see very many of them in the air at any hour of the day.
My day at the salt pans was very relaxing, when I reached back the shore I had a glass of wine at one of the two bars located right in front of the salt pans and I completed my day with a visit at the only wind mill still active here. It belongs to a company called SoSalt, which runs salt pans in Marsala and Trapani. It was pretty pricy but the lesson was very interesting and I enjoyed a spectacular view.
Tips to plan you stay in Marsala:
- Where to sleep: I stayed at a simple but nice family run baglio just 5 minutes from the salt pans, called Baglio il Giovinetto. I preferred to avoid staying in the city and enjoyed the little freshier night temperature of the countryside.
- Where to eat: i had a very tasty dinner at a restaurant close to the Salt Pans, runs by a group of very young guys, called Trattoria Lidia Renda. try their Caponata, it’s just fantastic.
- How o get to Mothia: you have a choice of two. There are two docks, the first one is at Contrada Spagnola, right in front of the parking, the second one is close to the SoSalt wind mill, where you can find another parking. The price is the same but there are different companies. If you get off in Mothia and spend some time there, ask the captain which is the name of the boat you have to board on the way back as it will be different from the one used to get to the Island.
- Mothia is an interesting visit but be aware that being a private Island as you will find a booth to pay an entrance fee. It’s just 5 euro per person but be aware of that. If you just visit the museum 1 hour is enaough, but if you want to visit the island allow at least a couple of hours and bring some water with you and a hat. In summertime the temperature is very very high.
- Visit to the Salt Pans: if you want to visit the SoSalt pan, I recommed you to do at sunset. Although there will be more visitors the view is better.