Favignana, a "butterfly" on the sea
Porto di Favignana
Called Egusa by Greeks and Romans for the abundance of goats in its territory, the name Favignana derives from the "favonio", a warm west wind. The island, 9 km in length and 4 km in width, is the largest of the Egadi archipelago, which includes also Levanzo and Marettimo.
It includes two flat areas, Wood in the West and Piana in the east, divided by Monte Santa Caterina (314 meters high), which gives it a butterfly shape lying on the sea: this is the romantic definition given by the painter Salvatore Fiume, in the seventies of the last century. Favignana belongs to the Protected Marine Area Egadi Islands, the largest marine reserve in the Mediterranean, established in 1991 to protect the extraordinary richness of its natural environment with very high biodiversity.
It has been inhabited since prehistoric times, under Phoenicians from the 8th century BC until the Roman conquest in 241 BC, as evidenced by the important findings of the archaeological area of San Nicola (in the north east) which preserves prehistoric caves, Phoenician-Punic and Hellenistic necropolis, mosaics of the Roman imperial age, a Roman nymphaeum excavated in the rock that was probably used as “women toilet”, and the remains of a structure used to process the fish and prepare the garum (the most popular condiment in the Roman Empire made with fish entrails).
The Normans built a system of fortifications in this island, which includes the Castle of Santa Caterina (still accessible) in the north and, in the south, the Castle of San Giacomo, enlarged by the Spaniards in the 16th century (today it is a prison). During the mid-seventeenth century, Favignana and the entire archipelago of the Egadi became property of Pallavicini-Rusconi family from Genoa, and then of Florio family who, from 1874, encouraged the traditional tuna fishing, which on this island dates back to the Twelfth century.
In addition to the precious tuff quarries (now in disuse), Favignana is well-known for the ancient Tonnara, the most important in Sicily and one of the largest in the Mediterranean, whose activity was strengthened by the Florio family, the famous family of industrialists and bankers who, between the 800s and the early 1900s, built an economic empire in Sicily. They created the first industrialization of tuna and invented the method of preservation in oil in tin cans, which was presented for the first time at the Universal Exposition in 1891-92.
The ancient tonnara, originally rented by the Florio family in 1841, was enlarged and renovated in 1874 by the architect Giuseppe Damiani Almeyda: it was the birth of the great factory that gave work to most of the islanders and that was able to fish, process, pack and market up to 10 thousand tuna fish a year worldwide. From 1840 to 1955, it is estimated that on average each year 18 thousand barrels of tuna in oil and 45 thousand barrels of tuna in salt were produced.
The Ex Stabilimento Florio della tonnara di Favignana (the former tonnara), still active until the nineties, is today one of the most impressive examples of industrial archeology in Sicily, with its 32 thousand square meters. Acquired by the Region and restored between 2003 and 2009, it keeps pictures and period films that tell the traditional ritual of tuna fishing (called mattanza) and the tonnara activities that, in recent years, relive only during folklore events for the tourists . There are no more nets and "death chambers" to catch tunas, so that these big fish cross the Egadi sea calmly, in their race towards the Strait of Gibraltar.
So, the spaces once used for tuna canning, now an Antiquarium, keep interesting archaeological finds: helmets, amphorae, and the famous rostrums of the Egadi Battle (241 BC), which rammed the enemy ships with their unique three-pointed shape, sanctioning Rome's definitive victory over Carthage. Also significant is the finding of the fifteenth-century Fiasca da pellegrino, whose alcohol content (wine) has remained intact for about six centuries.
Another testimony of the presence of the Florio family on the Island, is the elegant Villa Florio in neo-Gothic-liberty style, the family summer residence, which was built near the port between 1876 and 1878 by the Palermitan architect Giuseppe Damiani Almeyda and which is now used as Town Hall and tourist information point.
Favignana offers enchanting views, a turquoise and transparent sea: on the north-east coast, do not miss a visit to the Cala Rossa, a bay overlooking the sea, nestled between the limestone walls, used by the islanders for centuries as quarry stone material. According to tradition, its name derives from the fact that in these waters the naval battle between Romans and Carthaginians took place, which put an end to the First Punic War. The blood of the victims would have been so abundant, to dye the waters red. A bloody anecdote, which clashes with the postcard beauty of this place.