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D + 23: Cold War, Tuna & Marsala

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

Today's blog will be mostly photos. There was so much going on. A few photos say so much more than many lines of text

7.30 am - we decided last night to climb the 314m above sea-level Castel of Santa Caterina instead of working out. The castle was built by Spain to protect the lucrative fishing port of Favignana which the Genovese run under Spanish licence agreements since the 16th century

Some low level misty clouds covered the already hot sun and made the ascent easier. the town of Favignana is in the centre of the photo

The path to the castle was well maintained and rather steep. Over 2.7 km distance we had to climb 314 m. Who had paid for this beautiful path?

The 16th century fortress Santa Caterina is not well maintained. All rooms were vandalised and some of the stairs and platforms in dubious shape. It looked though as if the castle was actively used by troops until a few decades ago

View from the top - the AFAET is the tiny little boat on the left - the port and town of Favignana to the right

The Santa Caterina castle with its several, Vauban style lines of defence. It would have been a tough challenge for the Barbarossa or Turgut Reis to take it by force. They never tried.

On the roof we found the answer to how long the castle was in use. It was clearly a Radar station during the Cold War for either the Italian Navy or Airforce. Libya, once aligned with the Soviet Union, is just over the horizon


On the way back, we wondered what the big factory complex was to the west of Favignana town. It looked well restored and was in good shape even though there was no economic activity. We decided to have a look after swimming back to the boat and changing into fresh clothes.

The Stabilimento Florio delle Tonnare di Favigiana - the island's old, large tuna cannery seen from the port side. It was built in 1851 by the Florio family

Favignana sits right across one of the most important tuna migration lines - they pass here by the thousands to find the ideal spawning places on the Italian coast

The factory was converted into a museum in 2009 after it lay idle since closure in 1992. The boats here are the original boats used to catch tuna in the elaborate system of fishing nets which took three months to build (April - June)

The tuna were herded into a seven chamber system of ever more shallow fishing boxes and pulled out of the last box with harpoons. Apparently, it took 7 men to haul in a 600 kilo tuna. In the 19th century, tuna were far bigger as we know them today, easily 2 meters tall and weighting 600 - 800 kilos. In 1851, 10159 tuna were caught in Favignana.

Exhibition photo of fishermen pulling in tuna right exactly at the place where we anchored the AFAET overnight

Once brought on land and sliced, the tuna were cooked in these giant pots

And then canned by Favignana's women in this large hall using only the best olive oil

9 kg Tuna can for the Italian Army - the can dates from 1892. The Second World War completely ruined the tuna business since all export markets were close, Sicily became a war zone and many buildings got bombed. The Florio family lost its entire business.

In a small annex, the museum also houses the bronze rams of Roman and Carthage galleys which fought in the battle of the Aegadian Islands in 241 BC. During the encounter, the Roman ships sank most of Carthage's fleet - Carthage could not recover the losses and sued for peace three years later when it lost the islands of Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily to Rome


After the factory visit, It was time to sail to Marsala. The sea was quite rough though and it took longer than expected. It also derailed the plan to anchor outside of Marsala for the night. The swell was too heavy. We had to move to Selinunte where we got better shelter. Being already in Marsala though, Captain Nikos arranged at shortest notice a tour to the biggest wine producer, the Cantine Floria - also founded by the Tuna Family!

In these barrels, the wine maker Cantine Floria stores 3 million litres of Marsala wine. The oldest and most expensive is from 1939 which survived the bombing and the invasion of the American-British Forces in early 1943

As a fortified wine, like Sherry or Porto, Marsala has an alcohol content of close to 20% and gets better as it ages. It stays for years in the old oak barrels since they are coated inside by a layer of sugar crystals which prevents seepage & evaporation

Each barrel is carefully labelled - am sure a computer keeps track of the entire inventory of 3 million litres of Marsala. It is sold at different ages

The tour ended with the tasting of a 2001, 1994 and 1989 Marsala. The wine gets sweeter and more musky by age. And also more pricy. In my view, the 2001 offered the best balance.

The day closed with a spectacular full moon rise at 21.00 pm on the way to Selinunte with its Greek Temples - but this is for tomorrow


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