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The Natural Reserve of Vendicari

Natural reserve of Vendicary in Sicily

The Oriented Faunistic Nature Reserve of Vendicari is located in the province of Syracuse precisely between Noto and Marzamemi. Particularly important for the presence of marshes that serve as a resting place in the migration of birds. Planned by a law of the Sicily Region of May 1981, it was officially established in 1984, after the then Minister of Agriculture and Forest Filippo Maria Pandolfi declared 1450 hectares of territory “wetland of international importance”, according to the Convention of Ramsar of 1971. It was actually made available only in 1989. It is managed by the Regional State Forests Company.

History of Vendicari

Within the Reserve, human history shows a long stay. There are several archaeological and architectural settlements that testify to human life in these places since the Greek era. In fact, it is possible to find traces of deposit tanks of an ancient fish processing plant of the Hellenistic age, next to which a small necropolis was also discovered.

Vendicari with Byzantines

In the Byzantine period (until the 6th century AD) the area was inhabited to the south with the presence of a church with several catacombs and houses. The dangerousness of the coasts induced the inhabitants to abandon the site for internal areas such as Pantalica.

The Swabian Tower, probably built by Pietro d’Aragona, Count of Alburquerque and Duke of Noto (1406-1438), and brother of Alfonso V of Aragon, King of Spain and Sicily (1416-1458) testifies to the strategic interest of the area for the defense of the coast. Not far away is the tonnara of Vendicari, a building in decay that still preserves the chimney in good conditions, as well as various establishments and fishermen’s houses: the tonnara was built in the eighteenth century: in the period of maximum expansion had 40 employees, including two rais (the first of Avola and his deputy of Pachino). He stopped his activity in 1943.

The salt pans of Vendicari had economic importance for a long time, certainly in support of the tonnara for the conservation of the fish. The first plants date back to the 15th century and, to this day, vestiges remain of them on the Pantano Grande.

Land of Vendicari

The Vendicari Reserve covers about 1512 hectares, of which 575 in zone A and 937 in zone B (the so-called pre-reserve), in turn divided into zone B1, dedicated to agriculture (citrus groves, olive groves, vineyards and vegetable gardens sheltered by sand or rock tomboli) for 701 hectares, and B2, dedicated, for the remaining part, to structures for tourism and sport. It is located in a narrow marshy coastal strip, of fundamental importance for migratory bird species. In fact, the presence of vast marshes of high salinity has contributed to the creation of an ecosystem that is a reference point for birds that, coming from Africa (about 350 km away as the crow flies), stop here numerous before reaching the migratory destinations throughout Europe. In fact, the area of ​​the reserve is located at a lower latitude than that of Tunis.

The reserve is a coastal wetland of high biological value due to the presence of different biotopes: rocky coast, sandy coast, Mediterranean scrub, marshes (brackish and freshwater), salt marshes, garrigues and cultivated areas. The marshes Piccolo, Grande, Roveto and the two smaller ones (Sichilli and Scirbia, connected only to Roveto) are separated from each other only by a few tens of meters: they represent the fulcrum of the reserve. Of the three, only Pantano Piccolo never dries up, even during periods of drought, and this is due to the presence of brackish water sources. Pantano Roveto, on the other hand, is the largest (1.24 km²) and the mouth that connects it to the sea is usually underground. The average depth of the three main marshes is 30-40 cm, while the maximum is 1-2 m.

The Beach of Calamosche

The reserve is full of beaches: to the north is Eloro, with the beach of Marianelli, Calamosche, the beach of Vendicari (near the tonnara) and to the south the beach of San Lorenzo.

Calamosche beach is located between the archaeological remains of Eloro and the fauna oasis of Vendicari. In 2005 the beach was awarded the title of “Most beautiful beach in Italy” by the Legambiente Blue Guide.
The charm of the beach is due to the variety of vegetation and the presence of an equally varied landscape: the small beach is in fact located between two rocky headlands that, in addition to ensuring that the sea is almost always calm, offer the visitor an unexpected beauty. Another feature of the beach is the presence of numerous ravines, cavities and small caves in the two headlands. To reach it just take the provincial road 19 (Pachino-Noto) and turn right (following the indication “Spiaggia Calamosche”) approximately 11.40 km from Pachino.

A typical day in Calamosche Beach

Tonnara di Vendicari

The construction of the Tonnara di Vendicari also called Bafutu dates back to the eighteenth century. The activity of the plant has had alternate phases, flourishing periods with periods of closure based on the cost of the product and the competition of the neighboring tuna marls of Marzamemi, Avola, Noto and Siracusa. With official provision of the Harbor Office of Catania it was closed in 1884 to be reopened, after a series of renovations in 1914 thanks to the financial support of the Avolese nobleman Antonino Modica Munafò. The activity developed thanks to the presence of the nearby saline, which allowed the extraction of salt and the actual establishment where the tuna was cooked in the ovens and canned. The tuna was caught in the waters in front and transported to the balata where it was cut and processed. In 1943, following the landing of the allies, but also due to the poor economic performance of the tuna trade, the plant was closed. Today it remains a testimony of the ancient Sicilian tradition of tonnare.

Tonnara of Vendicari - Sicily
The image of Tonnara of Vendicari today

Salt Pans of Vendicari

The first information regarding the existence of the salt pans of Vendicari dates back to the fifteenth century and then had further evidence from the Fazello in later periods. Probably the area of the quagmire was used even in Greek times, given that nearby there are remains of tanks for fish processing. This does not exclude the production of salted fish and the use of salt on site. The salt pans then joined the tonnara activity, remaining in operation until 1951, the year in which a flood had caused considerable damage to the area. That event determined the closure of the structure, given that the competition from other saltworks had made the activity uneconomical. Today the salt marshes are used by birds as a refreshment oasis and are one of the most important attractions of the reserve.

Salt Pans of Vendicari - Sicily
Salt Pans of Vendicari Today
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