This morning we headed out to Marsala. On the west coast of Sicily, between Trapani and Marsala, sea salt is still harvested according to ancient tradition of the Phoenicians. A series of “pans” or flats are arranged so that the sea water slowly evaporates by the heat of the sun. The first pan was called the cold pool because water flows directly from the lagoon into the pan. A sluice opens and water flows into the next pan. This pan is shallower and the salt content is doubled. Windmills then pull the water into the next several pans, each one getting shallower and shallower and the salt content increasing. When the water reaches about the fifth pan the water is very shallow. On days without wind or humidity a thin crust forms on the top and is skimmed off and put into reed baskets. This the "Fiore di sale" and contains the most magnesium. The sun continues to evaporate the water and workers go in and break up the crust that forms on the bottom by pounding an instrument down to the bottom and twisting it. More evaporation occurs until there is very little water left at all. The workers then use shovels to make rectangular spaces in the salt, scraping to the bottom, and then going back and making smaller squares. The next step is to mound up the salt In the individual squares. Finally the salt is shoveled into wheelbarrows by squares, dumped on a conveyor belt and formed into large hills of salt. One of the harvesters works on the top of the hall smoothing out the sides and slightly rounding the top. The salt sits in the air to dry more until it is taken for packaging. Salt piles remaining until winter are covered with Spanish-type roof tiles to protect the salt from the elements. Where we went they continue to use the old methods and the salt retains the minerals. In Trapani, machines are used and the salt must be washed after harvesting, thereby washing away the minerals. I bought 4.2 ounces and was surprised it only cost one euro.
From there we took a flat-bottomed boat ride to the island of Mothya, pronounced Mozia. Some 2,700 plus years ago, the Phoenicians built a settlement there. The name Mothya means landing or harbor, and possessed many of the typical requirements of Phoenician settlements: a small island near the coast surrounded by low backdrops easy to defend from hostile attacks, and a safe harbor for ships. The presence in Sicily of Greek colonies, with whom the Phoenicians traded, were not always friendly. In 397 BC Dionysius of Syracuse destroyed the colony. The Phoenicians however, were not only good traders, but knew how to assess any situation. The island was on a lagoon only a meter or so deep and they laid a underwater road that allowed them to escape during the night without the Greeks being aware. Joseph Whitaker, who loved archeology, bought the land In the first years of the 20th century and lead the first systematic excavations. Many areas of the island have been excavated and it is now open for visitors. After a lovely picnic lunch including a wonderful orange and nut salad, we explored the island.Before heading to our last stop of the day, Luca treated us all to gelato.. Delicious.We ended up at Pelligrino's for a wine tasting. Pelligrino's was established in 1880 and is now run by cousins of the sixth generation. One side of the family deals in exports and the other of the wine that stays in Italy. Distribution stands at 50% exported worldwide and 50% stays in Italy. We got to taste three kinds of Marsala wine, named after the city, of course. Marsala is produced from four different varieties of grapes, two local to the region and two universal. Wine is rated not only by the type, I.e., but also by the age. wine 1-2 years old is Fine, 2-5 is Superior, 5-10 is Solaris (not sure of spelling), and 10 plus is Vintage. The younger the wine, the sweeter. Newer wine is kept in huge reusable casks and older wine in non-reusable casks of approximately 55 gallons.I only tried two of the three offered. The first was a Fine wine, a very pale wine served with a sweet cookie. I skipped the second wine which was an amber Superior served with a sesame seed cookie. Had to try the last one though, if only for the dark chocolate it was served with. It was a vintage red wine and pretty darn good. Not that I will ever be a big wine drinker, but you all know the old song When in Rome, or more accurately, when in Sicily, do as the Sicilians do.We had a farewell dinner tonight for Andrea who is an OAT guide for Tuscany and Umbria. I am sure it was helpful for Luca to not have to take on all of us crazy Americans alone from the beginning, but now Andrea has to do his own tour. Dinner was great, company fabulous, arrivederci Andrea, maybe sometime we can drag Luca on one of your tours.
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