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 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 we drove along the Strada, (SP 21) we could see the salt flats, but there are 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. Can you imagine what the sunset looks here?
The young man speak’s excellent English and took us through the process of salt collection.
His presentation was extremely dramatic and filled with passion. He sang softly, the “song of the laborers” from a former age, when the men counted each bucket of salt. That way, the foreman can keep a running tally for their wages.
The museum pieces are well displayed, and emphasized the corrosiveness of salt. Chestnut and oak were the primary building materials, and there are some massive pieces that had withstood hundreds of years of use.
The vintage photographs on the wall outline the different stages of salt collection from the saltpans, and there are 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 will 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.
Most noteworthy, our guide informed us that production was down, about 40 percent, and we 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, that dates back to the time of the Phoenicians.
This area is relaxing and at the same time, unique and special – possibly a natural wonder. It’s like being in a time-warp, yet people are still employed here today. The history is fascinating here. And, this is home to a bird sanctuary.
After this trip, I don’t look at salt in the same way when I cook.
Look at the photo below and see what the salt flats look like from the gondola up to Erice!
Take the gondola up to Erice, a hill-top town, and get a spectacular view of Trapani, in addition to the salt factories.
In conclusion: As we drove back into Trapani, we found a market and purchased two kilos of salt. That’s 2.2 lbs per bag. The salt is untreated, which means it has lots more potassium and magnesium, both minerals I am sorely lacking. I will treasure every bit, reminiscing of the salt flats of Trapani.