The Day of the Dead – All Souls DayNovember 2, 2021
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All photos © Alessandra e Lorenzo Trigilia
The Landscape of Vendicari
Even though the swampy area of Vendicari in the past was considered malsana, unhealthy because of malaria, it has always been inhabited and therefore cultivated. Thanks to its favourable geographical position, in the late middle ages - after Noto had received the right to export grain (1396) - Vendicari became an important loading bay.
It is important to note the continuous usage of the harbour and the commercial and productive activity which proceeded uninterrupted, under all the various rulers of the island: the extraction of salt continued, as did the fishing and processing of tuna fish and even its commercial activity, even if with some difficulty, maintained a certain importance.
The tower and tuna-factory at Vendicari di Vendicari
The Swabian Tower at Vendicari
Fishing activity never ceased, especially in the middle ages, and in the Norman period under Ruggero II in particular, the administration took a special interest in guarding the coast and hunting pirates with military forces, because the wealth of the entire island was founded on cereals and fishing from its precious “tonnare.”
The characteristics of the surrounding territory and the resources offered by agriculture were numerous: the plain of the Tellaro river was perfect for growing vegetables and largely filled by reed-beds; the alluvial hill was well-suited to grazing animals and planting; the limestone and alluvial plain was great arable land for plants and trees alike; the lower hillsides and inland slopes of the hills are still good for planting and grazing, the calcarenite plain was used for vineyards and lastly the coastal and marshy lands which included the salt flats, produced the precious sea-salt.
Documents from the 1400s record the presence of a vineyard just north of the Tellaro river, while from the 1600s onwards, the vineyards are documented mostly along the banks of both the Tellaro and Asinara rivers.
The abundance of anthropic presence and the activity of the harbour in the past produced a coastal landscape which was certainly very different from the naturalistic one we admire today in the marsh area and the coastal dunes.
The positive effects of the temperate climate and clean sea, together with “proto-industrial” working techniques, therefore not too invasive for the natural environment, have allowed the vegetation of the marshy area to recover rapidly after the end of the activities of the tonnara and the connected salt-flats.
The area of naturalistic interest at Vendicari is protected both by the Piano Paesaggistico (landscape plan) of the province of Siracusa, and by the Riserva Naturale Orientata founded by the Regione Siciliana as an oasis and declared as a special protection zone by the European Union.
The 'tonnara', tuna-processing factory at Vendicari
Specifically the classification of Vendicari is an area which contains coastal habitats, formations of alofitic vegetation and maritime sand dunes, believed to be of communal interest for the safeguarding of biodiversity in Europe.
A fragile species, although not rare nor endemic, which is struggling against the recent climate changes, is the ginepro coccolone (Juniperus macrocarpa) associated with the dunal areas. Other species like the spinaporci (Sarcopoterium spinosum) which are very common on the Monti Iblei, are sparsely represented in the rest of Italy and are therefore to be protected to maintain biodiversity.
The vulnerability of the alofile vegetation of the marshes is connected to the survival of the habitat itself: it is therefore necessary to protect and create buffer areas to avoid the expansion of intensive agriculture. The visual continuity of the coast which can be appreciated from the top of the Vendicari tower, gives a sense of unity to this coastal territory, in which a peculiar morphology of the natural inlet and the presence of five coastal marshes make it an “unicum”, a unique landscape of rare beauty.
Summer salt-flats at Vendicari
The presence of quality agriculture, and the rarity and specificity of some plant species present in the area of Vendicari are fused, together with the constant presence of submerged land, in an area that has become the ideal resting place for migratory species. The current ecosystemic balance present in the Oasis is an effect of the transformation of the site which went from harbour and salt flats to an agricultural and seasonally residential area where the human presence has weakened, favouring the natural vegetation which now represents an extraordinary example of Mediterranean maquis.
Today the Oasis of Vendicari is a dynamic landscape in which the single components are extraordinarily unique and perfectly integrated, testifying to the natural evolution of a territory of great value, without which the province of Siracusa, and particularly the territory of Noto, would lose part of its identity and history.
“On the deserted stone-slabs, in the shadow of the solitary chimney and the mighty tower, facing the silent sea, is a perpetual, insolvable enigma: Vendicari, a wild woman on a desperate search for love or a pirate hideaway?”
Agronomist and landscaper, she is a member of the Associazione Italiana di Architettura del Paesaggio. As Head of the Soprintendenza Beni Culturali di Siracusa, she coordinated the techno-scientific aspects of the landscape plan of the province and has collaborated with the defining of the Archeological Parks of Siracusa, Eloro and Lentini. She has planned and directed the works of enhancement of the historic garden of the Museo Archeologico Paolo Orsi in Siracusa. She has done research on the local vegetation in the archeological area of the Neapolis and worked on the environmental recovery plan for Priolo and Augusta.