Saturday, January 26, 2013

Gorgeous View, Haphazard Town: Porto Empedocle, Sicily

Porto Empedocle is a seaport in southern Sicily. Most tourists in the area do not bother with the Port because their destination is the famous Valle dei Templi (Valley of the Temples or in Sicilian: Vaddi di li Tempri), an astonishing ancient Greek archaeological site in nearby Agrigento. On a recent road trip around Sicily, the coast highway E931 took me right through Porto Empedocle, and it looked too interesting to not stop.
The town is the terminus for ferry boats that go to the islands of Linosa and Lampedusa. Lampedusa, only 110 km from the coast of Tunisia, was in the news in 2011 because thousands of escapees from Libya and Tunisia were quarantined there in refugee camps. Remote Linosa was once a penal colony for Mafia chieftains and thugs. In the 1930s, dictator Benito Mussolini almost succeeded in eradicating the Mafia by executing hundreds (thousands) and banishing hundreds to prison camps on Linosa. But the American forces in 1943 enlisted the Mafia to help overthrow the Germans, put the Mafia back in power in rural towns all over Sicily, and the rest is history (Duncan, P. 1994. Sicily: A Traveller's Guide, John Murray Publishers Ltd.).
The town is built on two levels. The port and lower town are on the coastal plain, while the upper town is about 100 m higher on a limestone ridge. The lower town is a warren of twisty lanes with haphazard multi-floor apartments. Some may be late 1800s-vintage, but most look like dumpy post-World War II units, with an occasional modern monstrosity. The photographs above were taken from the Via Mare road that runs along the ridge.
Up on the ridge, all of the apartment blocks look to be post-1960s. The town has been known for its sulfur mines since antiquity. Do all these people work at the sulfur factory?
We saw some children playing, but the streets were pretty quiet mid-day on a Saturday. A supermarket tucked into the basement of one of these apartments was busy.
The streets reminded me of people's housing blocks I saw in the old Soviet Union, except here there were more private cars and the general maintenance condition was better.

Do not let me discourage you: Sicily is a spectacular tourist destination, and the people are very friendly.  The history spans the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Moors, and Normans.

Photographs taken with a Panasonic G1 digital camera. These look different then my previous Panasonic images because I processed the raw files with Photo Ninja. This is an amazing software that extracts subtle details from the files - highly recommended!


LJ said...

This is the town where my great grandparents, grandparents, parents and siblings were all born and raised and I have spent many-a-summers there. I was the first of my family to be born in the United States. I am wondering if you had the opportunity to visit the beautiful beaches (the lido, lido Rosello or Scala dei Turchi…a spectacular sight! Look it up. Thanks for sharing your tour. I miss it there.

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BrunoB said...

Nice photos. I was there in 2016 for 1/2 day. This town is where my grandfather and his father were from. They left in 1910-1916. Your caption of Gorgeous view, hapahazard town is very apt. I actually went to the town hall to see if I could look any family up. A guy came up to us and (in Italian) asked what we were looking for. I explained in Italian that my grandfather was from there. He asked his name, and then took us to a restaurant which was empty and spoke to the manager(?) there in too fast Italian. Then the manager gets on his cellphone and calls someone. Then in English, the manager hands me the phone and says "He wants to talk to you". I wound up meeting a guy with same last name who is a 2nd cousin most likely. We talked and had some wine and then he had to go back to the office and we had to catch the boat.

It is such a nice area, if I could go back with money I would develop an entire tourist resort destination there because of the ships and with Agrigento a short car ride away it would be amazing.

Kodachromeguy said...

Bruno, what an interesting story. Thank you for sharing it. When this blasted pandemic finally quiets, I want to spend a couple of weeks in Sicily, just exploring, eating, and photographing.