Marzamemi is a seaside village in the municipality of Pachino, in the free municipal consortium of Syracuse in Sicily.
The origin of the name Marzamemi is controversial: according to some it would derive from the Arabic words marsa (‘port’, ‘rada’, ‘bay’) and memes (‘small’), while according to the Netino glottologist Corrado Avolio, in his essay on toponymy Sicilian, the toponym would derive from the Arabic marsà al-ḥamāma, that is ‘bay of turtledoves’, “for the abundant pace of these birds, in spring”.
It is a suggestive place, Marzamemi, and it has soul fishing. Its Tonnara is one of the most important in all of Sicily, and dates back to the time of Arab domination. Although in recent years the location has focused heavily on tourism, thanks to its beautiful beach and the port equipped to make pleasure boats dock, its luck is still today mainly in fish products such as bottarga and bluefin tuna belly, and wine: Nero d’Avola is produced here, one of the most famous Italian wines. Without forgetting the Pachino tomato, a PGI product that takes its name from the village of which Marzamemi is a fraction.
Marzamemi is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and fascinating villages in Italy, a small town whose history has been marked by fishing. It is a paradise of stone and color, to be discovered slowly to admire its most beautiful views.
Dominating the small town with its stone houses is its tonnara, dating back to the time of the Arabs. It was remodeled over the years by the prince of Villadorata who had the entire village built around the tonnara.
Today, Marzamemi is still watched by its tonnara, even if it is no longer active. Its fishermen still use colorful boats, but the country’s vocation has become tourist.
The town is picturesque, with its colorful views, the characteristic fishermen’s houses, the marinas, the small islands and the numerous restaurants and clubs where you can meet the true flavor of the sea, always with a privileged view of the Ionian Sea and its crystal clear waters.
Let’s start our trip in this suggestive Sicilian wonder!
The Churches of San Francesco da Paola
The patron saint of Marzamemi is San Francesco da Paola.
The feast of the saint has always been deeply felt by the local population and that is why 2 churches were erected throughout the history of this village.
The ancient church of San Francesco da Paola was built at the behest of the Prince of Villadorata together with the architectural complex of the adjacent Tonnara, so much so that today it is simply called the “tonnara church”. Outside the church, you will immediately notice the typical Baroque portal, dominated by a round window and the bell tower.
To date, this church has been deconsecrated and disused since the end of the Second World War, which significantly damages its structure.
Erected in 1945 by Eng. Corrado Terranova, the new church of San Francesco da Paola was handed over to the citizens in 1950.
The church has a single nave, on five bays, with a polygonal apse. Inside you can see the Gothic vault taking up the style of the external facade. The supporting structure is in sandstone, typical material of the place.
The church is built with sandstone, the typical material of the place, is in Gothic style, has white walls and inside there is a high altar, as well as a Gothic vault that recalls the exterior. It stands exactly in front of the old church.
Certainly, less suggestive than the ancient church, this is the church of the faithful of Marzamemi, and it is from here that the procession of the patron saint starts every year.
The tonnara is the structure of great historical importance, not only for the village, but also for the whole of Sicily; in past centuries, in fact, this structure was the most important in the eastern part of the island. It rises in Piazza Regina Margherita, it is built in sandstone and on the façade the coat of arms of the Nicolaci family can be distinguished, who took care of the activities of the Tonnara starting from the mid-18th century.
Currently the building is not open to visitors, but it is possible to organize receptions, weddings, gala dinners and conventions in the Loggia, a very large room of 750 square meters, formerly used for boat shelter.
The Marzamemi tonnara was the most relevant in eastern Sicily, as noted by the researchers Fabio Salerno and Salvo Sorbello, who reported in their books the data relating to the catch of the seventeen tuna that were active along the eastern coast of Sicily . Indeed for D’Amico: this is the best return Tuna of the Kingdom and island of Sicily, (…) making some very fishy fish.. Already in 1558 the historian Tommaso Fazello wrote of Marzamemi as “a reduction of ships. The sea abounds there with tuna and other marine fish, all good to eat”.
In the tonnara of Marzamemi there were two slaughtering every day: one in the morning and one in the early afternoon.
The nucleus of the tonnara is made up of Piazza Regina Margherita and the main palace, built in 1752 by the Calascibetta family and then managed by the Nicolaci, gabelloti di tonnara, according to someone descended from an admiral Nicolajev or Nicolaus, of Anglo-Russian origin, according to others, instead, heirs of a rais from the Pizzo Calabro tonnara. The works began in 1746, on the initiative of the barons Calascibetta and were led by the masters Matteo Corso and Pasquale Ali.
The building is in sandstone and the Nicolaci family coat of arms is depicted on the portal; on the upper part of the facade there are five rainwater drainage channels, in the shape of shelves ending with human faces.
Also in the square there is the old church of the tonnara, built in sandstone, with a simple but elegant facade, where a small bell tower stands out on one side and an arch on the other. The church had three altars: in the center the one of the Madonna of Pompeii, on both sides those of S. Antonio di Padova and S. Francesco di Paola, patron of Marzamemi and also kept an artistic painting depicting the Madonna of Carmel.
The Arab courtyard and the fishermen’s houses that surround Piazza Regina Margherita are still visible, including the oven house and the rational house. The plant for salting tuna and then for processing it in oil was built next to the palace in 1912.
Today, in the same square, stands the new church of S. Francesco di Paola, in white stone, built at the behest of Pope Pius XI, on whose front stands a rose window of Romanesque style.
San Lorenzo Beach
San Lorenzo beach is a very fascinating stretch of coast characterized by large beaches and small coves. The fine clear sand is bathed by a turquoise and crystalline sea with a gently sloping seabed, which allows even the youngest children to enjoy the sea in peace.
The splendid coast has an uncontaminated heritage of large beaches and small coves. This beach is located just outside the border of the Vendicari reserve, but has the same environmental characteristics as the reserve, the natural continuation of the Vendicari beach.
It consists of a rocky part, near the reserve and fine white sand towards the south. The sea water is turquoise and crystal clear and the seabed is relatively low, very suitable even for children. Along the beach you can meet different services that allow tourists to enjoy relaxation without sacrificing comfort.
The coast is well equipped with facilities and services that ensure days of complete seaside relaxation.
The coast of San Lorenzo has a rocky part in the area confined to the Vendicari Reserve, characterized by a blue sea and a deep seabed. Heading south, the coast instead has a very clear and fine sand, with the seabed becoming low and gently sloping towards the open sea, with a clear turquoise color.
The nature reserve “Vendicari Wildlife Oasis” was established in 1984 by the Sicilian Region. It is located precisely between Noto and Pachino (province of Syracuse) with a territory that extends for about 1512 hectares.
An entire ecosystem lives undisturbed within the reserve.
Frequently you will find yourself in front of breathtaking landscapes, dense vegetation that suddenly opens up to a crystal-clear sea, to very long and golden beaches, which in a few hundred meters become rocks overhanging a deep sea.
From the observation huts you can admire Flamingos, Herons, Storks that stop here before reaching the final migratory destinations.
This nature reserve, spread over 1,512 hectares, is a very important site, both from a naturalistic and historical point of view.
Several species of migratory birds live in the reserve, there is a factory used for fishing activities, as well as a small necropolis from the Hellenistic period.
Among the birds that can be spotted there are flamingos, storks, seagulls, and many others based on the migration season.
In addition to bird watching, the areas of the reserve offer snorkeling and excursions.
Calamosche beach is located between the archaeological remains of Eloro and the wildlife oasis of Vendicari.
In 2005 it was awarded by the Blue Guide of Legambiente with the title of “most beautiful beach in Italy”.
The charm of the beach is due to the variety of vegetation and the presence of an equally varied panorama: the small beach is in fact between two rocky promontories which, in addition to ensuring that the sea is almost always calm, offer the visitor unexpected beauty. Another feature of the beach is the presence of numerous ravines, cavities and caves in the two promontories.
With fine and clear sand, its beach stretches for just over 150 meters between two cliffs that shelter it from the currents, so that the sea is generally calm and clear, and for about 50 meters deep. Even the shallow seabed is sandy, giving the sea bluish-green hues.
Calamosche is particularly suitable for those who practice snorkeling: caves, cavities and underwater ravines offer a breathtaking spectacle.
Calamosche is the Italian adaptation of the dialectal Funnu i musca, meaning Fondo (plot of land) of the fly.
In fact, with flies, at least today, it has little to do, in the sense that there are certainly no more than there are nearby. It cannot be excluded that the original meaning of the term “Musca” refers to something else.
Palace of Villadorada
The palace of Villadorata was built in 1752 at the behest of the prince and stands on the west side of Piazza Regina Margherita. All around the old fishermen’s houses.
Built in sandstone, the villa of Villadorata looks like a simple facade, with a wooden entrance door whose portal is represented by an arch, with in the center, a key with the family coat of arms, dominated by ancient gutters in stone depicting human faces.
At the top of the building we notice a small tower with slits, decorated with pinnacles and various bas-reliefs depicting geometric motifs.
This tower was formerly used to ward off any attacks on the village by pirate ships and later became the summer terrace of the Villadorata family.
The internal light point of the entire structure consists of the elegant courtyard; from here a two-ramp stone staircase leads to the Prince’s rooms.
Today this courtyard is used for the Frontier Film Festival, for the annual “Calici di Stelle” event and numerous municipal events.
On the back there is a second terrace which overlooked the “Camperia”, the Tonnara warehouse. From here the prince, looking out, observed the work of the fishermen.
The interior of the Camperia can be visited today: inside there are the “scieri”, ancient boats for tuna fishing, and ancient tools used by fishermen.
The interior of the building was rich in works of art, silverware and fine furniture. Unfortunately, during the Second World War, the prince’s apartments were ransacked.
Today the palace is used as a location for numerous events, commercials and film shootings, such as “Sud” by Gabriele Salvadores or the more recent “Caravaggio”.
Marzamemi’s Small Ports
La Fossa and Balata are the two natural small ports of Marzamemi.
From here in the past, the main commercial ships of South Eastern Sicily started, and their activity was closely linked to the activity of the tonnara.
Today, however, there are two suggestive corners that frame the village, a meeting place for tourists.
Of the two, Balata is certainly the most characteristic. It is a small square, paved with rectangular limestone paving. On one side it is bathed by the sea and on the other it is bordered by old houses.
Balata is a sort of rectangular and natural small port, very fascinating as it is paved with limestone slabs, bordered by the sea that bathes it and by several characteristic houses. It is certainly one of the most beautiful views of the village and in summer it becomes the venue for events and shows.
From the small port, you can admire the two islands of Marzamemi, the Isola Piccola, on which stands a burgundy-colored villa, owned by the Brancati family, which is why the place is also known as Isola Brancati and Isola Grande, which is connected to the mainland from a long pier.
Among these you will notice the “Old Factory”, a building preceded by an ancient stone archway, where ice was produced.
Next to this, you will notice the remains of the “Casa Cappuccio”, a name that derives from one of the tenants of the trap. The peculiarity of this construction derives from its architectural project: three of the four facades are in fact facing the sea.
This presented besides the ground floor, a first floor with a terrace on the balata.