If there’s a place that fits the definition of ‘picturesque’, Marzamemi must be it.
Located on the south-eastern tip of Sicily’s coast, Marzamemi developed as a docking place, eventually becoming an important harbor, as well as one of the most important tonnara sites (tuna-fishing nets used to catch tuna) of the area.
While the tonnara is no longer in operation, Marzamemi has prospered as a tourist destination due to its idyllic position on the sea, its proximity to the Vendicari Nature Reserve, and the village itself, a profusion of colors, flowers, old buildings and one photogenic spot after the other.
The simple Church of San Francesco di Paola, to whom the whole town is devoted, includes a bell tower in the main square. For centuries in the church, women, with their face covered by a black veil, prayed to the saint for their loved ones to come back from their fishing trips. The devotion to the saint is still felt, and every year on April 2, the day of the patron saint, the whole village goes in procession.
The first tonnara in Marzamemi dates back to the 1500s, and it was during the Bourbon period that production reached its peak. It is said that up to two mattanze per day were performed then (the last phase of tuna fishing in which a very large net is closed around a group of tuna fish and drawn together, the fish being hooked using harpoons and then beaten to death via repeated blows). The practice led to the decimation of tuna in the area and the activity eventually transformed into tuna processing for a Genoese factory, which was eventually abandoned after a bombing in the Second World War.
In the 1700s, Marzamemi was the residence of the princes of Villadorata, who owed their wealth to the lands and to the tonnara. Inside the palace that belonged to them are the remains of the only village oven, where villagers went to bake their bread and other products every morning.
Marzamemi is located just a few kilometers away from Pachino, famous for its production of tomatoes, so make sure to stop by one of the carts to buy your share.
Try the pasta with tuna at Cialoma, possibly the most photographed place in Marzamemi, or dine in one of the colorful restaurants in Piazza Regina Margherita, after sipping aperitivo by the harbor.