When we visited the island of Favignana off the west coast of Sicily, we got a chance to meet “Rais” Gioacchino Cataldo. He was the chief of the tuna fishermen of Favignana from 1997-2007. The tradition of capturing tuna in a series of stationary net constructions (tonnara) dates back to the Arabs in 807AD. Migrating bluefin tuna enter the Meditteranean Sea each spring and swim by the islands as they head to their spawning grounds. The stationary nets direct the tuna into net pens where the larger tuna are hauled into boats. By the 1980’s, the catch had started a drastic decline that resulted in closing the local cannery, and by the 1990’s it was no longer a viable industry. The Rais was part of a movement in the late 1990’s to revive the traditional fishing technique. Tourist income was used to help finance the effort, but the nets have not been set for the past two years as the tuna have disappeared. (You can click on any picture to see a larger version.)
The Rais is 69 yrs old, a huge man of about 6’6″, and quite a character. He explained how the nets were set, and told us stories about the tuna and his wild life. Here are some pictures of him today and in his prime, hauling in tuna weighing 700-1000 lbs (not my pictures).
Our trip to Sicily and beyond wasn’t just about history. It was springtime, and everywhere we went was covered with wildflowers. Whether we were touring Greek ruins, climbing up to a small Norman church on Marettimo Island, or touring the Alhambra in Spain, we were surrounded by flowers.
We also met some non-human inhabitants, all of whom greeted us with friendly smiles.
More Greek Ruins
It’s hard not to be impressed by the Greek temples. Even though most of them have been knocked down or shaken down by earthquakes, the remains and the reconstructions are hard to forget.
The islands around Sicily, as well as Corsica and Sardinia, were just beautiful. One of our stops in Corsica was to visit the Cliffs of Calanche World Heritage Site, as well as the town of Piana at the top of the hill.
Cities and Towns
We walked around a number of towns, compared the espressos, and sampled some great food. Several of the old Medieval towns like Bonifacio in Corsica cater to the summer tourist crowd, others like Granada in Spain or Syracuse in Sicily are larger cities. All were great places to visit.
The end of another great trip!