The ancient salt pans of western Sicily

14th September, 2016
With a past dating back to the time of the Phoenicians some 2700 years ago, the ancient salt pans of western Sicily have played a significant role in the area’s industry and economy for several centuries, and are still in fact used today.

Located between the towns of Trapani and Marsala, this sun-drenched spot is perfectly positioned as it enjoys both shallow coastal waters and hot African winds, providing the ideal conditions for making salt. Before refrigeration came along, salt was extremely useful for preserving food, and so it was a highly desirable commodity, creating work for thousands of Sicilian people.

Just a few miles north of Marsala is Stagnone, which is the largest area of salt production. If you want to learn more about how salt is produced here on the salt pans, this is the best place to visit. It is not only the traditional home of salt-making, but it is also a nature paradise, as it is a designated marine nature reserve home to many interesting varieties of wildlife. Windmills decorate the Stagnone skyline, acting as a reminder of how salt was once produced. They would pump water through the sluice gates in and out of the various basins, with piles of harvested salt gathering beneath the basins and the surrounding roads.

The salt industry in western Sicily was at its peak in the 1860s, when the region was home to 31 salt pans producing over 100,000 tonnes of salt every year, exporting to places as far afield as Norway and Russia. Today, salt here is largely produced for the artisan market, to a niche of gastronomes who swear by the salt and its qualities believed to be found nowhere else. They believe its unique properties come from the fact that it is produced 100% naturally, as well as the fact that it contains a higher level of magnesium and potassium. These additional mineral properties are said to enhance the flavour of the salt, and is said to compliment fish dishes especially well.

The salt pans also have a museum dedicated to their history, located on the banks of the lagoon halfway between Trapani and Marsala. Here you can learn about how the salt industry grew and how the pans and mills functioned throughout the centuries to produce the end product. From this location, you can take a ferry across the water to Isola San Pantaleo, where you will find the Phoenician archaeological site of Mothya. If you decide to stay on land, the salt pans offer up some truly spectacular views, especially at sunset, when the last of the day’s sun reflects its soft light on the mounds of sparkling salt.

The ancient salt pans are just one of the many incredible sites you can visit during your visit to Sicily. On a stay at our luxury villas in Italy, you can find not only amazing places but also wonderful food, a wealth of activities, a laid-back atmosphere and welcoming people.

Image: UlyssesThirtyOne, Ulbrecht Hopper, available under Creative Commons