Salt Flats of Trapani, Sicily – La Saline De Nubia
“He sang softly, the ‘song of the laborers’ from a former age, when the men counted each bucket of salt.”
The Museo del Sale appears to be in the middle of nowhere, in the town of Nubia, just outside Trapani ─ a very remote corner of Sicily. It’s an industrial looking area, and periodically, there will be large heaps of salt along the side of the road.
As I drove along the Strada, (SP 21) we could see the salt flats, but there were only a couple signs for this museum. Just when I thought we were lost, and wanted to turn around, there was the sign ─ pointing me in the right direction.
When I turned right, there was the three-hundred year old stone house, with a windmill that we had been seeking. What a beauty! We arrived about thirty minutes before closing, which afforded us a private tour of the museum.
The young man spoke excellent English and took us through the process of salt collection. His presentation was extremely dramatic and passionate. He sang softly, the “song of the laborers” from a former age, when the men counted each bucket of salt. That way, the foreman could keep a running tally for their wages
The museum pieces were well displayed, and emphasized the corrosiveness of salt. Chestnut and oak were the primary building materials, and there were some massive pieces that had withstood hundreds of years of use.
The vintage photographs on the wall outlined the different stages of salt collection from the saltpans, and there were various specialist tools made for its extraction, and harvest. Today, these working tools are valuable to industrial archeology.
Why only here, do they collect the salt? It’s a combination of the flats themselves being so close to the water, the sun, the dry weather, and especially the arid wind. It’s a year round process of pumping and drying the water in shallow pools. The final harvest season is July and August. It would only take one inch of rain to destroy the “crop.”
The yearlong collection process was epitomized by the story of how our guide’s grandfather, used to wade out into the shallow ponds, in a chest high rubber suit, and gathered bushels of fish for the Christmas market. The tanks bred prized fish such as, sea bream and sea bass.
Our guide informed us that production was down, about 40 percent, and I left feeling their loss. He explained that now, we are served salt chemically dried, leaching out nature’s nutriments. It’s pure but a weak replacement for the beauty of this salt.
After the tour, we were able to walk out to the flats on narrow paths of earth. The wind mills were in the distance and for a moment I thought I was in Holland. This visit helped me to understand the cultural value of an ancient industry, where the product has not, thankfully, changed.
As we drove back into Trapani, we found a market and purchased two kilos of salt. I will treasure every bit, reminiscing of the salt flats of Trapani.