Skip to content

Trapani Salt

Our bus ride took us out of the city, Trapani and toward the flat lands near the sea. It was a forty-five minute ride past olive trees and vineyards and fallow fields all very flat.  We were going to take a short boat ride to an island with an ancient history of habitation the Sicilians, the Phoneticians. Down from the bus the boat awaited.

We moved through a channel with piles of white salt piled about twenty feet high on each side of the channel.  There were terracotta tiles stacked between the piles of salt. These tiles would be used to cover the piles of salt during the winter rains.  The water was shallow and the flat bottom boat followed a channel marked by poles.  There were white and grey bubbles like the foam left by waves at the ocean at the edges of the canal and at the shore of the island.  

Workers shoveling salt.

We were told that the water here was very salty and mineral rich. To extract the salt, the water was moved from one settling pond to another until the last pools where chrylistation occurs.  The salt here is pure white.  

We saw men in rubber boots and gloves shoveling the salt crystals into wheelbarrows. They rolled the wheelbarrows to a conveyor belt which was depositing the salt at the top of the pile.  I saw a simple old wooden wheelbarrow in the museum.  This salt extraction process has been happening here for three thousand years. 

I tried to imagine how valuable this area must have been when salt was pay, “worth your salt” when it was a prized commodity.  I could imagine the ships from Venice into the port of Trapani, loading up on salt.  I have read that the wealth of Venice at one time was based upon control of the salt trade in their merchant ships.

The harbor here is protected and famous naval and land battles from antiquity have happened here.  The “Battle of Drepana” in 249 BC during the First Punic War in 249 BC is an example. The Romans tried a surprise attack in the fog at night.  The Roman fleet was in disarray the fog hampered them.  The Carthaginians were not surprised they came out of the harbor and soundly defeated the Romans.

We took a walk along the shore of the island which opened on the harbor.  You could see how strategic this harbor could be with a narrow mouth it was easily defensible.  

We saw a video which documented in some detail the salt works.  The gift shop, in the bottom of a windmill. had little bags of salt which made some good souvenirs. Of course I have to think of Kurlansky’s book “Salt”. It’s kind of a joke, everyone wants to know how anyone could write a book about salt, “a real page turner right” some have said.  But there was a story here, many stories with 3,000 years of salt production.

We had a long lunch here.  There was a French travel group that arrived at the restaurant just twenty or thirty minutes before we got to the restaurant.  So the lunch was extended.  During the lunch I spoke with Charles and Anna. The couple were from Sidney, Australia. We talked about jazz, our favorite musicians, recording devices and software while the sound in the restaurant was playing jazz.

Anna was attractive and Charles was interesting.  I think they were both a favorite of the tour group.