In the province of Trapani, in western Sicily, between San Vito lo Capo and Castellammare del Golfo the hillsides slope gently to the sea in a myriad of little coves and herald the beginning of a natural Regional reserve, the Riserva naturale Orientata dello Zingaro.
Narrow paths, specially laid out on the slopes, lead to the sea or climb up the hills, making it possible to sight one of the most intact Mediterranean ecosystems.
Scopello, the main access point to the Riserva, is perhaps the more evocative and colorful place of the entire gulf of Castellammare. It is a small village risen at the end of the 18th century around the “baglio”, on a previous Arab country house. In the low-lying wonderful cove limited by the stacks and protected by old towers, there is the “tonnara” (tuna-fishing structure), known sine a long time ago (it is mentioned in documents of the year 1200); it has worked until few years ago, together with the “baglio”, the buildings and the warehouses.
Scopello has been inhabited since the prehistoric period (finds discovered in the caves of the inland document the human presence, starting from the Paleolithic period), the zone has been known since ancient times because of the abundance of tunas, which were fished in its sea, so much that the Greeks called it “Cetaria”, that means “earth of the tunas”.
Zingaro Beach – Photo © art.com
The Arabs founded there a country house, which was inhabited by fishermen and shepherds and, in 1235, Frederic II the Swabian, after having annexed it with all the feud to the city Mounte San Giuliano, granted the property to a group of settlers of Piacenza, who soon left because of the continuous pirate incursions. In those centuries, in fact, the pirates who infested the low Mediterranean sea, used the bay of Scopello as a base for their raids: mooring the ships behind the stacks, they were practically invisible from the open sea.
The towers give to the landscape a mystery halo and a fascinating atmosphere, which mixes together nature and history.
They go back to different ages and they were part of a system of defense and communication distributed along all the perimeter of the Sicily: communicating among themselves using the fire, by night and using the smoke during the day, all the island could be informed in very little time of any military news.
Riserva dello Zingaro – Photo © ervortice
The oldest tower, probably built by the Arabs to protect the “tonnara”, is the one that rises on the stack that was once connected to the mainland, which could be approached through a bridge or probably a scale that was carved in the rock itself. The Doria tower, from the name of the Spanish nobleman who let it build on the terrace that faces the bay, goes back to the XVII century. Another one, the Bennistra tower, is the one built in the XV century on the top of a mount in the south of the “baglio” and that dominates from its exceptional point of observation the entire gulf of Castellammare.
Flora and fauna:
This area is the nesting territory for dozens of avian species: peregrine falcons, Bonell’s eagles, buzzards, kestrels, kites and other birds included in the red list of endangered species.
The reserve is a real oasis of biodiversity, also rich in many rare native plants like the dwarf palm, the symbol of Zingaro, which spontaneously grows in every recess and declivity.
How to get there:
By car from Trapani with SS 187 TP-PA
Trapani-Birgi Airport: motorway A29, direction Palermo, Castellammare del Golfo exit, direction Scopello.
Palermo: motorway A29, Palermo/Mazara del Vallo, Castellammare del Golfo exit, direction Scopello.
Courtesy of AAIPT Provincia di Palermo, Palermo Official Tourist Board