Thursday, November 10, 2011

Windmills in Sicily? The Great Salt Road

The Museum of the "Saline"
or Salt Works of Marsala, an ancient windmill
 dating from the late 1700s
It is impossible to underestimate the importance of salt in antiquity. Our modern relationship to salt is primarily for seasoning, but for the ancient populations of the Mediterranean, lacking any kind of refrigeration, salt was used to preserve food. It was in a sense white gold, and it was sold and bartered as an important commodity. You will hear in many regions of Italy and Sicily a reference to "The Salt Road" or "La Via Del Sale" which in Western Sicily is most well known along the coast line from Trapani to Marsala. 

Starting in Trapani and making your way toward Marsala you will see Dutch-style windmills used for grinding salt and pumping sea water, along with  mountains of glistening white salt dotting the coastline. The ancient salt beds date back to the early Phoenicians, and their waters turn various shades of silver-grey, and later an incandescent salmon color as the water evaporates to a silvery white.    The salt beds are positioned in the shallow waters of the
lagoon of Lo Stagnone in Marsala and along the coastline of the towns of Paceco and Trapani. 

My son Fabrizio looking out of the window of the
Windmill at the Saline Ettore e Infersa in Marsala

Large deep pools are carved into the sea bed that allow the salty, iodine rich sea water of the lagoon to enter. The water is then pumped into shallower and shallower beds, and with each placement it is allowed to evaporate, leaving a residue of salt in an mineral-rich environment.

When the salt has reached its shallowest bed and the evaporation is complete, it is collected by salt workers, in the same way our ancestors have done for millenia. 

A view of the salt beds
which I took from the roof of the
Museum Windmill

The salt is shovelled onto shore as great white pyramids that are covered with hand-formed "tegole" or tiles to protect it from blowing away. 
 It is then brought to the windmills where it is ground and prepared for shipping all over the world.

"Tegole" or tiles stacked and ready
to be placed on the great salt mounds

This is not an exaggeration. I divide my time between Southern California and Washington DC and in both locations I have found Italian specialty stores that sell salt from the SOCAL brand, harvested in Marsala and Trapani.

Pyramids of glistening white salt dot Sicily's
shore line.

They cannot keep it on the shelves--and with reason--it is the finest cooking salt in the world, rich in salt water minerals because it has not been overly processed as many brands of salt are.

SOSALT packaged for international markets along side a "tegola" or hand painted tile from Arte Ceramica in Marsala,

More thought on the Salt Works of Sicily in my next Blog.
Until then,
Ciao a presto!

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