On the west coast of Sicily, between Trapani and Marsala, sea salt is still harvested according to ancient tradition of the Phoenicians. A series of “pans” or saline are arranged so that the sea water slowly evaporates by the heat of the sun.
In late spring, sea water flows into the deepest pans with carefully built channels to move the water from the deeper to the shallower pans as the water evaporates over the span of several months…
The water is pumped by hand using the Greek technology of the Archimedes Screw.
And controlled by an intricate system of small gates like this one to hold the water back or allow it to flow out into the pans.
The salt harvests occur during the hottest summer months typically with one in July, one in August and one in September.
At that time, salt crystalizes in the shallowest pans shown here and is shoveled out by hand. I visited outside the harvest season when there was no salt in the pans, but this video gives an idea of what happens.
The “fior di sale” is a special kind of crystal (called “fleur de sel” in French) that forms only on certain days when there is no wind and no humidity. It is the purest and most prized form of salt, naturally rich in magnesium. It has to be harvested separately from the regular sea salt.
After it is painstakingly collected, the sea salt is ground in a windmill. The salt is completely natural and organic, with no additives or chemical processes.
One windmill has been transformed into a museum to show how all the mechanisms and tools work along with photos and videos. It is a fascinating place to visit. If you are there in season, you can go out in the pans and try shoveling the salt.
The workers, who still have the stamina and know how to do the work, are becoming fewer, but several families are continuing to work with this ancient technology. Industrial processing plants use heating elements instead of the sun to crystallize the salt faster and often use chemicals to clean and process the salt. The salt that comes naturally from these pans isn’t processed except in the old windmill.
From the window in the top of the windmill, the island of Mozia is visible. It was once a Phoenician town that is remarkably well preserved as a kind of Phoenician Pompeii. Read more.
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