…. escape reality and move to Paradise on Earth. There are too many examples of places where one is amazed with the crystalline sea water whose blue is of some shades and unnaturally shining. When photos of such places circulate on the Internet, people think they must be of the Caribbean basin, Bora Bora or Bali. Yes, but no. Europe and Italy, in particular, is full of such places, one of them being the Egadi Islands which offer breathtakingly picturesque post-card views, clear sea water and a protected natural marine reserve. The extremely beautiful archipelago consists of three islands (Favignàna, Lèvanzo and Marittìmo) and their two smaller “babies” (i.e. the two islets – Maraone and Formica).
F A V I G N A N A
It is the largest and the most important of the islands. It’s with the shape of a butterfly and that’s why it’s often nicknamed as La Farfalla (the Butterfly). As to its another nickname, the islet was referred to as the Island of the Goats (Aegades or Aegusa deriving from the Greek word “Αιγούσα”, meaning a “goat island”) by Homer where Ulysses made a stop before coming back to Ithaka. As to today’s name of the island, it comes from the Favonio (Favonius wind or foehn wind).
The Egadi islands were sold out several times throughout history and in 1874 – to Ignazio Florio. The Florios (a wealthy and powerful family of industrialists from the mainland) had interests in three spheres – tuna fisheries, sulphur mining and Marsala wine. Ignazio built and strengthened the tuna cannary and tuna-fishing nets on the Island of Favignana. Le isole Egadi have still been home to tuna fishery in Sicily and crowds of tourists come here to watch the spectacle called “mattanza” and dedicated to the traditional tuna cull. Apart from tuna fishery, the Florios also created and opened calcarenite quarries (type of limestone) and exported the stone to nearby Tunisia and Libya.
After having got acquainted with only some historic facts of the island, we shall start our exploring journey. But from where? Of course, the very first place we inevitably shall visit is the small port of the islet. It is the heart of the town of Favignana. It’s where local fishermen attract potential buyers from their wooden carts full of freshly caught fish, crying out to passerby and “spectators” alike. At a time you would forget in which century you are. No worries. When next hydrofoil anchors, you will get back to the present immediately.
Being on the topic of fish and tuna, in particular, and as mentioned above, Ignazio Florio and his family laid the foundations of canned tuna on the islands. They built around 50 tonnare (tiny tuna canneries) in the 19th century after having bought the islands and having acquired the fishing rights. They introduced one really very innovative method of conservation of tuna in oil and canning it in 1891-1892 as well as innovative tins with a key-opener of the tin.
How was tuna canned at that time? They cut into pieces the fish caught during the mattanza (a very ancient, violent and almost religious ritual). Then they baked it in large boilers and they get the already baked fish dried. Another secret of their revolutionary method used in le tonnare was the processing of milk with the usage of machines and welding machines.
As to La Tonnara Florio (or also known as Ex Florio of the traps of Favignana and Formica – the former tuna cannary in Flavignana), it was used for storing the equipment, anchors and boats used during the tuna cull as well as the catch from the mattanza. Nowadays its abandoned skeleton is one of the attractions of the island before visitors dive into the city with its low Mediterranean houses and two splendid piazza (squares). Last thing here. The museum is a worth a visit with its multimedia rooms and fishery equipments still preserved there.
After visiting la tonnara turn back and have a look at the distant hill across the sea. You will definitely see the silhouettes of the abandoned prison on Monte Santa Caterina. Actually, due to its isolated position the Island of Favignana, Fort of Santa Caterina was first used as a fortress. It was originally constructed by the Arabs. Later it was enlarged by the Normans. It was often used as a prison by the Spaniards, Austrians and the Bourbon Kings.
Now it’s high time we headed off to the old centre of the town of Favignana where most of the islanders live nowadays. It is featured by two main piazze and a network of tiny, winding streets where you will get acquainted with the charm of the island. La Piazza Madrice houses the imposing church as well as it is where you might eat some fresh tuna, eat ice-cream or drink a coffee. After this short rest and relax, you will rush the numerous minimarkets and souvenir shops while all the roads of the square will bring you to the other focal point of Flavignana, i.e. La Piazza Europa, which is dominated by the statue of Ignazio Florio as well as the family’s nearby palace (Palazzo Florio). After indulging into the splendour of the town, you should head for the harbour from where you can take another hydrofoil and explore by sea the rest of the beauty of the Island of Favignana.
The island might look somehow bare to you but it is not at all. It is always dressed in its “crystal-clear and blue” dress and it “wears its red coral shoes” at the seabed whose colours are strengthened by the colours of the various kinds of fish, including exotic species from the Red Sea. The island is rich in tufa areas and the subsoil provided the tuff that was used for the building of entire cities through Sicily and even in North Africa. Apart from this, spectacular coves suitable for bathing have been carved in these tufa areas. Some of the most popular ones are Cala Burrone¸ Cala Rotonda and Cala Azzurra with its tones of blue and white beaches. As to Cala Rossa, it is the most charming cove among them all. Moreover, it’s best known due the circumstance under which it has obtained its name – the Red Cove.
I will open a bracket here. Favignana and the surrounding islands were “theatre” of the naval battle between the Eternal City and Carthage in 241 BC after which the islands were conquered by the Romans in the First Punic War. And what happened exactly? The two fleets met a short distance offshore. The 200 Roman ships were commanded by Consul Gaius Lutatius Catulus who managed to defeat the Carthaginian fleet that possessed ships that were twice as many as those of the Romans. Moreover, Catulus sank 120 Carthaginian vessels and imprisoned 10 000 Carthaginians. The number of the dead Phoenicians was great and their bodies were washed ashore to the north-east on the island of Favignana. Their blood changed the colour of the sea water there and that’s why this shoreline obtained the name Cala Rossa (Red Cove). Actually, lots of facts show that, actually, the red clay on the beach gave the name to this particular place of Favignana (not the bloodshed). The bracket closed.
Last but not least, I should mention also the Bath of Women. It’s a huge seawater swimming poolexcavated into the rock. The Romans used to breed morays for eating into it and that’s why it was called murenario’. The coastline of the Island of Favignana is also gifted with numerous caves dating back to the Paleolithic and Neolithic times. I guess you’ve already managed to get acquainted with the beauty of the island. Before going to the other islands, the islands of caves, you should avail of the excellent swimming and good scuba-diving possibilities in the sea caves like la Grotta Azzurra, la Grotta dei Sospiri (it’s called the Cave of the Sighs because the cave really “moans” in winter) or la Grotta degli innamorati (the Cave of Lovers).
L E V A N Z O A N D M A R E T T I M O
Being on the topic of caves and coves, we should mention they are a very common view also on the Island of Levanzo which is the closest isle to Sicily. Actually they gained its fame and more precisely, la Grotta dei Genovesi (the Cave of the Genoese). The cave is set in the cove of the same name on the west coast. The drawings discovered there are really very precious because they back to the Paleolithic era. They represent primitive arts, hunting scenes, animals, human beings and plants.
The isle isn’t famous only for this. Nope. Its alluring, pristine, unnaturally blue-shaded sea water and small white beaches at Cala Tramontano, Cava Minnola and Punta Pesce will give only the much desired quietness and relax far away from the noisy and overcrowded cities. While the seabed will turn you back to the Roman times with the archeological Roman and Carthaginian findings. Scuba-divers will also enjoy the “natural acquario” full of colourful and very exotic fish species.
Being the farthest isle of them three, Marettimo is a complete “outsider” of the modern world. You might indulge in the beauty of the caves and coves also here. Their stalagmites are of extraordinary beauty and their age is the prehistoric period.
Apart from the Cave of the Crib (the rocks form strange figures in it), la Grotta della Bombard (the echo of the waves is really very strong), the Cave of the Camel (named after the rock of the same name), here you may enjoy the quietness of nature. And do you know why? Because the only built-up area is on the east coast. There you will find a small fishermen’s village with a tiny harbour and modest white Arab-style dwellings. The uniqueness of the isle is hidden in the fact that the inhabitants are against any construction of hotels and development of mass tourism. And it’s good for them, actually, as they will preserve their paradise this way and it will remain untouched.