Favignana trip planner

An island of the west coast of Sicily famous for its annual mattanza tuna harvest

The main island of the Egadi is home to the famous annual mattanza, a bloody tuna harvest conducted according to ancient rituals that stretch back to the Arab style of tonnara, funelling the shoals of bluefin tuna into a complex series of nets that form underwater "rooms" reaching 30 to 40 meters below the water's surface.

Once the harvestable tuna have been cut out into the final net chamber—the camera della morte, or "room of death"— men in boats around the top edge of the chamber begin to haul up its net "floor," raising the trapped tuna to the surface where the massive fish can be hauled up onto the boats with long, harpoon-like hooks.

(There are some videos up of the mattanza—a photo show of old mattanze, and one of the last mattanza, in 2005.)

On Favignana, you can visit the decaying hulks of the old Florio factory for a small admission fee (tel. +39-0923-808-111). The factory is named for Ignazio Florio, who bought the islands from the Marquis Pallaviciino of Genova in 1874, opened the factory, and established tuna (and tufa mining) as industries for the local populace.

Local, traditional fishing declined after World War II when faced with competition from large-scale commercial fishing operations, but the Parodi Borthers bought the factory and kept at least the canning operations going until the 1980s. Now the islands make their living off modest tourism, with Italians (and some intrepid foreigners) comgin for delicious seafood, a laid-back pace of life, and several sparkling (if rocky) swimming coves.

On Favignana's northeastern shore is an area called Cala Rossa, or red cove—today its crystalline turqoise waters make for a fine swimming spot (and you can explore the tunnels left from tufa mining), but those waters did once run red with blood.

This was not from the tuna massacre, but from the hundreds of dead Phoenicians that washed ashore here during one of the greatest naval battles of the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage in 241 BC. The two navies met in the waters between Favignana and Levanzo on March 10. By the end of the day, the 200 Roman ships had defeated the 400-strong Phoenician fleet, sinking 120 ships and taking 10,000 prisoners.

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