Marzamemi, Italy: top attractions

Marzamemi

Mardzamemi is one of the most beautiful places of Sicily. It is a fisherman’s village located in the south of the island, 20 kms far from the baroque capital Noto, but geographically it is part of the commune of Paquino. Mardzamemi is famous for its clean sandy beaches, its picturesque history, its delicious cuisine and its excellent wines.

Marzamemi

According to one version, the name Mardzamemi comes from two Arabic words: marsa – port and memi – small.

Borgo originated as a dock for boats, and over time became a fishing port, which determined its further economic development.

Boat in Marzamemi

In 1655 Mardzamemi built a tonnara (tuna fishing enterprise) which was considered one of the most important in southeastern Sicily. The tonnara belonged to Baron Simone Calachibetta of Piazza Armerina, but at first it was used occasionally, because it was not possible to process the entire catch. At that time tuna was salted and put in wooden barrels. It was not until the second half of the 18th century that the tonnara began to work at full capacity. All city life revolved around the tonnara and it played an important role in the urbanistic plan. In 1752 the palazzo and the church dedicated to the Virgin Mary of Monte Carmelo were finished. The barons of Calachibetta also ordered the erection of houses for fishermen. All the buildings were placed in the immediate vicinity of the tonnara.

Tonnara in Mardzamemi

Along the main street grew warehouses, which were required for barrels of wine and their further transport by sea to the northern lands. After all, the lands around Mardzamemi were famous for wine, especially from the Nero d’Avola. They were called “reds from Paquino,” noting their special flavor characteristics.

Marzamemi

They also sold salt, which was extracted from two salt mines in Morgell and Mardzamemi. In 1843 Salvatore Calachibetta died, leaving no heirs, the tonnara passed to his niece Giovanna Antonia Calachibetta. But the debts continued to grow, allowing Corrado Nicolaci, Count of Villadorata, who was already a gabelloto (i.e. tenant-intermediary), to buy out most of it. But it was not until the second half of the nineteenth century that the full transfer of the rights to the tonnar took place. From that moment the new history of Mardzamemi began. They began to build roads that connected the fishing village with other settlements. In 1847-1853, under Bourbon rule, a railroad was built from Mardzamemi to Paquino, which improved the economic situation of the village.

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Mardzamemi

In 1912 a tuna processing factory was built in Mardzamemi, whose fishing was not limited in any way until the end of the war. The Mardzamemi Tonnara fished about 2,000 tons of tuna a year, in some years in the early 20th century even more. There were two slaughterings of tuna every day, in the morning and in the afternoon. For this purpose, they used the ancient mattanza method, which became widespread in the Arab period. All tonnars were divided into two types: “di andata” (di corsa) and “di ritorno” (volante). The first includes the tonnars of the western coast of Sicily, the eastern ones of the second. This division was derived from the route of the tuna. The first employed a system of five rooms that ended in a “death room” where the tuna were slaughtered. The tonnar volante, which was in Mardzamemi, used huge nets that were thrown from ships, surrounding the fish. Beginning in 1922, there was a decline and in 1926 the decision was made to close the enterprise. The tonnara reopened in 1937, but on June 12, 1943, a few days before the Allied landings, it came under fire from British aircraft, during which one of the chimneys collapsed. The Tonnara finally closed in 1969. Now the building arrives in ruins, local enthusiasts raised the question of restoration, but they were insistently asked to mind their own business.

Tonnara in Mardzamemi

By the end of the nineteenth century, Antonio Starrabba, Marquis di Rubini, built a large palmento (winery) and later realized a steam mill, which was modified into a distillery. The palmento made use of the natural elevation difference between the hill and the port below, which allowed for the easy transfer of wort and wine to the ships. For those days, this was advanced production. A neighboring distillery made grappa from the mash. In 1908 the Marquis died, leaving the winery to his son Carlo Emanuele. But he committed suicide in 1917, and after a series of lawsuits in 1933 the winery became the cooperative Di Rudini, which existed until the 1960s. Now the “Ecomuseum of the Mediterranean” is opened in Palmento, and the distillery is in ruins.

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The revival of the borgo began in the early 1990s when Mardzamemi became the location for the filming of Gabriele Salvatore’s The South. In photos dating back to the 1980s and earlier, most of Mardzamemi’s buildings are in a sorry state, and the borgo looks deserted and abandoned. Tonnara looks out over the small port that opens up La Balata Square . It is considered one of the most beautiful and characteristic places of Mardzamemi. Ships laden with goods once arrived here.

Old photo of La Balata

Under the arches, where the restaurant is now open, there was the “Old Ice Factory” which belonged to the barons of Villadorata. Nearby is the Cappuccio House, which has one peculiarity – three of its four sides face the sea. La Balata square is a favorite place for tourists. During the feast dedicated to the defender of the city, St. Francis of Paola, there is a paglio on the sea.

How did a Calabrian saint become the patron saint of Mardzamemi? The exact date when it happened is not known, sources say the 16th or 17th centuries. Fishermen and their wives prayed to St. Francis of Paola, asking him for protection in a troubled sea, as well as good earnings. When the saint responded to their requests, the village held a feast in his honor. Later, the exact date was chosen: August 17.

The central square of Mardzamemi is Piazza Regina Margherita, surrounded by two churches dedicated to the patron saint of the town, there are also Palazzo Villadorata and fishermen’s houses built in the XVII century.

Piazza Margherita. Mardzamemi

Palazzo Villadorata was built in 1752 by the architect Vermeccio. It is made of sandstone. Above the front door is the family coat of arms. At the top of the facade five gutters are made, which end with human faces. Baron Villadorata used to go out on the long balcony to supervise the fishermen who lived next door.

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Palazzo in Mardzammi

The building suffered damage during World War II. Inside, the courtyard and terrace have been preserved. The first floor is currently occupied by stores and cafes. The old church was erected in 1752. Its facade is simple and elegant with a small bell tower on one side and an archway on the other. The church is now defunct.

Old Church

The fishermen’s houses were covered with reeds. For many years they remained abandoned, but have now found new life. Restaurants, bars, stores and mini-hotels for tourists have opened in the restored houses. In Mardzammi the Arabian courtyards have been preserved.

Marzamemi

Marzamemi

In 2007, the square received new lighting and was tiled.

The picturesque coast overlooks the piazzetta Giardinelli . It used to be a fish-processing facility, but after the tonnars closed, it was abandoned. But now they have been revived in the form of restaurants and cafes.

Piazzetta Giardinelli

Piazzetta Giardinelli

Marinella beach overlooks the island of Brancati. On it is a villa in red that belonged to the family of Raffaele Brancati. He was a surgeon and a native of Paquino, but later the family moved to Catania. Raffaele’s cousin Vitaliano Brancati, a famous writer and playwright, also lived on the island. From under his pen came such works as “Antonio the Handsome” and “Hot Paolo”, on which remarkable films were made.

Brancatti Island

In general, Mardzamemi often became the setting for films. The plot of the aforementioned film “The South” unfolded in the palazzo Villadorata, where the unemployed, led by Ciro (Silvio Orlando), barricaded themselves in, making their demands. An emotional scene in “Man of Stars,” directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, in which the charming crook Joe Morelli (Sergio Castellitto) is arrested takes place in the port of La Balata. Also in Mardzamemi were filmed some episodes of “Commissar Montalbano”, the movie “Hunting Season” and others.

Marzamemi

Marzamemi

What to try in Mardzamemi

The first things to try in Mardzamemi are all sorts of tuna and bottarga (tuna roe) dishes, as well as swordfish. But be prepared for the fact that the prices in the restaurants are quite high. You can buy tuna and other fish products at the store at the small Adelfio factory.

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Adelfio

Ciliegino di Pachino IGP’s geographically protected cherry tomatoes, which have a sweet taste, are grown in Paquino. As in all of Sicily, granita is popular in Mardzamemi and is often ordered for breakfast along with a bun. The most prestigious and good wines are the red Nero d’Avola and the sweet Moscato di Noto. The wines of Planeta, La Favola, Marilina, Rudini and Riofavara farms are worth paying attention to.

The Sicilian fishing village of Marzamemi

Marzamemi fishing village in Sicily

We discovered Marzamemi by chance during a spring trip through Sicily. As often happens, we were looking at a map while we were filling up the car. We saw the sonorous name, looked it up on Google, our eyes lit up, and already in the morning we were there. From Noto, where we stayed overnight, 20 minutes by car, from Catania 1 hour 20 minutes, from Syracuse 50 minutes.

Marzamemi fishing village in Sicily

Martsamemi is a fishing village that originated in the 10th century around the traditional tuna fishing system, the tonnara, built by the Arabs. Today it is no longer in operation, but the building itself has survived.

There is no exact interpretation of the origin of the name Martsamemi. There are two versions:

  • from the Arabic Maria al’Hamam bay of doves
  • small port⠀.

Marzamemi fishing village in Sicily

Sicily Marzamebi

Marzamese Sicily

Martsamemi is probably one of the most Instagrammable places I’ve seen in Sicily (I’ve been far from everywhere, this is important!). The bright colors of flower pots, tables and chairs of restaurants and bars in the squares, modest buildings of pale gray stone with shades of ochre, blue-blue sky, bright fishing boats in the port. One aesthetic delight for the eyes and soul. In 1993 the film South by Gabriele Salvadores was shot here. The director was captivated by the atmosphere and beauty of the fishing village.

Sicily Marzamebi

Marzamese Sicily

When we entered the main square of Piazza Regina Margherita, we immediately heard tunes that were a nice addition to the already existing atmosphere. It was a street musician playing, which, by the way, resembled the Troubadour from The Bremen Musicians.

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The traditional Sicilian drink cremolata.

While I was capturing every millimeter of this city in photos and videos, Filippo settled down at a table in the square and ordered a delicious and refreshing cremolata. It’s a Sicilian soft drink, though I would call it more of a dessert. Cremolata is a cousin of granita, only more creamy and juicy due to the addition of fruit pulp rather than juice.

Sicily Marzamebi

Marzamemi is a prime example of what I imagined Italy to be like. And in my opinion, the plot of Catherine Banner’s “Home on the Edge of Night” might have unfolded here.

Marzamese Sicily

Marzamese Sicily

⠀ The appearance of the town today is the result of an eighteenth-century reconstruction commissioned by the Villadorata family. During this period they built the residence of the Prince’s palazzo Villadorata and the church of St. Francesco Paola. Fishermen’s houses date back to the XVII century. Some of them are restaurants and bars. There are a lot of them here, which indicates the attractiveness of Martsamemi by tourists, but at the beginning of April there were only locals and probably Italian travelers.

Martsamemi has two ports, Fossa and Balata. Merchant ships departed from here. Especially active was the wine trade between Martsamemi and Genoa. The port of Balata is spacious, forming a square. In summer it is full of bar and cafe tables.

When leaving the city center, stop by the market. There is a good selection of tuna in cans with different sauces. In 1912, they opened a big salted tuna and oiled tuna factory in Marzamemi.

If we talk about the main activity of Martsamemi as a trading port and fishing village, of course, it has lost its position, but the locals continue to go out to sea and catch fish. Their colorful boats are moored in the port. Today, Martsamemi processes fish and welcomes guests.

How to get to Martsamemi

It is very difficult to get to Martsamemi by public transport. The nearest stop is in Paquino, and from there you have to order a transfer. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend a reliable company. If you’re traveling by car, it’s easy to visit Martsamemi. There are plenty of parking spaces near the city center.

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