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Latitudine : 38° 1' 8.25" N
Longitudine : 12° 31' 7.21" E
The salt flats is where the salt production occurs; extraction of salt from the sea water using the evaporation process has been going on here near Trapani for thousands of years.
The way it works is the shallow flat “pans” in the earth are filled with salt water in February and March each year. The water flows in from the sea through canals and is pumped into the pans using the windmills that can still be seen on the flat land (nowadays this process has been modernized and the windmills are really more for show). Between March and July the water level is slowly lowered through evaporation thanks to the long days of sunshine; this makes the salt content in the water more concentrated.
In July the salt harvest begins before the water is completely evaporated (so the harmful minerals can be washed off easier and not deposited into the remaining salt). The salt is then piled up high for drying. At the salt pans, we were able to see many large mounds of white salt, some with tiles over the tops of them – I assume this was to protect the salt from the elements and from birds that may land (and do other things) on the salt.
While we there, in late November, not much salt extraction was going on. From the pictures I've seen, I think it would be incredibly interesting to visit in the summer as the salt is culled from the pans and piled up to dry.
Today, this area is part of the World Wildlife Fund and is a protected bird sanctuary. We saw many birds enjoying the water, especially since it was a time when the water was not being used to extract salt – the pans were simply filled with sea water for the enjoyment of the birds. Some of the birds that can be seen here are great white herons, flamingoes, avocets, and black-winged stilts. I wish I had more time to spend here just to take photos of the birds; it was the first time I had seen flamingoes outside of a zoo.
In nearby Nubia located on the coast and just south of Trapani is the Museo del Sale, a museum situated in the heart of the salt pans nature preserve and dedicated to explaining the process of salt extraction.
The museum was not easy to find but there were signs that got us there. If we hadn’t known that it was in Nubia, a very tiny village, we probably would never have found it. But once in Nubia, we noticed signs to the museum and drove along the extremely bumpy and pothole filled road to the small building.
As we got closer, we were able to see rows of salt piles and the salt flats. We parked at the museum in its small lot (there is a much larger lot behind the building) and had a look around. We opted to not go into the museum, so I cannot vouch for whether it was worth the €3 admission fee. My guide book did a great job of explaining the salt process and what we were seeing, so we didn’t feel the need to go inside the museum.
Outside in the parking lot is a sign board (Italian and English) that also explained more about the nature preserve and the birds that could be seen. We walked around the area near the museum and were able to see the canals, the windmills, the salt pans, the piles of salt, and some of the birds. It was all we really felt we needed to do. Next to the museum is a small café if you happen to need a snack or drink.
After doing our self-walking tour, we hopped back into our rental car and drove back along the bumpy road to our next destination, Erice.
The idea of going to Erice intrigued us – it is situated high up on Monte San Giuliano some 721 meters (2,365 feet) high. It is a walled medieval city with a Norman castle. Beyond that, we didn’t know much more and were interested in visiting and learning about this town.
We left Trapani, where we could see Monte San Giuliano hovering above us, and made the short drive up the mountain to Erice, leaving the sunshine and warmth and heading obviously into the clouds as the large gray mass of cloudy mist moved quickly overhead. The closer we got, the darker the sky became. Once we arrived in Erice and began to walk around, it was difficult to believe that this city is next to Trapani – the atmosphere was so different.
As you see from my photos, it was gray and very windy. See my Erice video to give you a feel for the conditions we experienced. It was also very misty from the clouds hanging over us (or wrapping around us). Thankfully we had brought jackets along with us because they were definitely needed.
The gray cloudiness added to the overall impression that Erice was a ghost town – it was literally shut up tight. We came across only two other sets of visitors, a couple and a small family. We all chuckled at how empty the place was. Most of the churches and attractions were closed and only a handful of shops were open (and not one of them had gelato). Still, we enjoyed our walking tour, with the exception of the extremely slippery stone roads that were also hilly, making for some treacherous downhill stretches.
We saw as much as we could – the Castello di Venere and the Castello Pepoli, the churches, the walls with megalithic stones, and the quaint town square. We had read that in high tourist season that Erice is extremely crowded – but I’m not sure that coming in the off season is the best thing. Sure, we avoided the crowds, but we also didn’t see much of the attractions.
Overall, I liked Erice, but I tend to like medieval cities and I am very interested in Norman architecture. I just wish I could’ve gone inside the castle. I won’t make a special trip back just for Erice, but should I find myself nearby again, I’ll give it another go and see if I can get into that castle!
To read more about our visit to this medieval city high on the mountain, visit my weekend in Erice page.
The hydrofoil trip to Favignana is well worth the effort. We'd expected to be the only travellers out of season, so imagine our surprise when the boat was full of locals on Sunday morning, we reckon they were visiting family, judging by all the bakery goods they took along. The ride is a bit bumpy so doubtful tummy travellers need to sit towards the front of the boat, near the loo.
Favignana itself is quiet, fishing boats and not many resturants, at least not out of season. We can thoroughly recommend the trattoria on the harbour front, visible to your right as you disembark. It's also an internet point and they speak English.
Erice sits on the legendary Mount Eryx at an altitude of 750 meters. The appearance of this village is puritanical since it comprises only of forts and churches and has the notorious history as the centre for the cult of Venus. Settled by the mysterious Elymians, Erice amid its fertile fields was an obvious abode to the goddess of love, and the town followed the peculiar ritual of sacred prostitution with sacred prostitutes being accommodated in the temple. Needless to say that despite countless invasions the sacred site remained inviolate – guess why?
Being situated so high above the rugged coastline below the views are phenomenal over the coastline and the hinterland of Sicily. This is a charming medieval town and a must see on any exploration through Western Sicily.
Trapani was founded by the Elymians to serve as the port of the nearby city of Erice (ancient Eryx), which overlooks it from Monte San Giuliano. The city sits on a low-lying promontory jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea. It was originally named Drépanon from the Greek word for "sickle", because of the curving shape of its harbour. Carthage seized control of the city in 260 BC, subsequently making it an important naval base, but ceded it to Rome in 241 BC following the Battle of the Aegates in the First Punic War.
Two ancient legends tell of mythical origins for the city. In the first legend, Trapani stemmed from the sickle which fell from the hands of the goddess Demeter while she was seeking for her daughter Persephone, who had been kidnapped by Hades. The second myth features Saturn, god of the sky, who eviscerated his father Cronus with a sickle which, falling into the sea, created the city. In ancient times Saturn was the god-protector of Trapani. Today Saturn's statue stands in a piazza in the centre of the city.
The city was badly damaged during World War II when it was subjected to intense Allied bombardments. It has grown greatly since the end of the war, sprawling out virtually to the foot of Monte San Giuliano. Tourism has grown in recent years due to the city's proximity to popular destinations such as Erice, Segesta and the Egadi Islands.
Mainland is parceled into salt pans, and windmills that were once used to refine the salt pans and windmils that were once used to refine the salt rise above the flat lanscape.