The extreme southeastern tip of Sicily consists of a headland with a lighthouse: to sea, it marks the point at which the Ionian Sea meets the Canale di Sicilia. The local tuna fishery flourished during the course of this century, and continues to be owned by the Baron of Belmonte, who, only in 1994, took part in a calata when the fishermen go out to lay the nets far catching tuna.
The complex comprises canning works albeit now unused, where the tuna was put into tins, a house for the Rais – the quarter-master responsible for overseeing the mattanza (the killing of the tuna) and a family residence for the owner himself. A splendid view stretches across the water to the open horizon: a seascape which changes tirelessly at the whim of the elements.
A natural channel separates the islet of Capo Passero from the mainland; this can prove to be an especially strategic place to lay nets when the tuna are running. The islet, meanwhile, has been subject to a campulsorily purchase so that the colony of dwarf palms growing there might be protected; this has forced the fish-rearing tanks that were there to be jettisoned at sea, and has decimated tuna fishing in the area; as a result, the place is no longer the centre of activity it used
Portopalo di Capo Passero – This comprises the small picturesque archetypal fishing-village. Naturally, the hub of activity is the harbour where, between noon and 2pm, the fishing-boats return and the quays suddenly throng with curious old men and busy housewives come to purchase the fresh catch straight from the sea.
A curious fact about the mattanza
During the catch, the fishermen used to signal the number of tuna netted in the various Chambers: a white flag was flown when there were ten; a red one meant there were 20; a white one for 30; a red and white one to signal 40, and so on. If they were unable to estimate the number of fish, they used to wave a sailor’s jacket on top of an oar, a gesture known as u' cappottu, which meant “we can’t count them any more, there are too many".