Sicily – Siracusa province – walking around Marzamemi

Marzamemi is a small harbour town, just south of Siracusa on the east coast of Sicily.

I first came here in June 2004 when I was working at a school in nearby Pachino and the owners brought me here for lunch. I liked the area so much that I promised myself I’d come back one day, so nineteen years later, in September 2023, I found myself returning to celebrate my 57th birthday at the same restaurant, more about which in the next post on Eating Out in Marzamemi.

My map with all the places mentioned is here.

When I first came the town was completely dead, but since then it has changed immeasureably as a steadily increasing flow of visitors have started to arrive (note the huge outdoor carpark on the edge of town to cater for peak season traffic). The tourists are attracted by the quaint main square, Piazza Regina Margherita, and the pretty streets around it which are now packed with restaurants.

However, you don’t have to walk too far to find the signs of decay that I remember when I first came.

There are a couple of archaeological sites close to Marzamemi. In 1959, a 6th century Byzantine merchant ship was found by accident on the seabed a kilometer offshore which was carrying the stones for building a Byzantine church. You can take a boat trip to see another wreck, just outside the harbour. The wooden parts of this Roman ship have long since been washed away, but the stone columns it was carrying lie submerged within view on the seabed.

However, Marzamemi’s heyday, in common with many other coastal settlements in Sicily (eg Mondello and Favignana, see other posts), was as a tonnara, a place where tuna fish were caught and processed.

The tuna industry began here in 1600 during the time of Spanish rule, and lasted up until 1969. During this time it was one of the most important tonnaras on the island, peaking in 1912 there was a matanza (tuna slaughter) twice a day.

The old tonnara building, which housed the long boats for the matanza is still standing.

As a result of this history the town has been able to refashion itself as a food destination and many of the old buildings around the square have been turned into restaurants and shops.

All the usual Sicilian kitsch is here now too.

Salt production, which began during the Arab era, was also once a significant industry, although it lost out to the bigger production facilites in Marsala in the long run. The old pan has now become a marsh and plays host to many species of birds (flamingos, cormorants, pelicans, herons to name a few), as well as many other kinds of flora and fauna.

You can view the marsh by going down this corridor at 35 Via Marzamemi but you’ll need some binoculars or a camera with a powerful zoom to be able to see anything. Hopefully the local administration will improve this resource in the future.

Marzamemi is also trying to refashion itself as a beach town but the two beaches either side of the town are in truth pretty scraggy and not somewhere I’d want to spend a whole holiday.

If you want to go for a walk or short run, the rocky area just north of Spinazza beach is a good destination. The main vegetation here is wild samphire although much of it was too dry to be harvested in late September.

In the opposite direction, an added bonus for an architecture buff like me was all the Modernist homes, many with Deco influences, along Viale Paolo Calleri, although my block, in the last picture, was on the less attractive Via del Pini.

However my Airbnb host Loredana was lovely and the flat (59 Via del Pini, but due to name changes, advertised as 61 Via Tamerici) was very spacious, and a snip at just £145 for three nights.

My reviews of the restaurant scene next!

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