Where We Are

Marzamemi is a small village which is about 3 km from Pachino. Marzamemi is an Arabic word <Marsà al hamen> which means Rada delle Tortore. The name derives from the abundant footsteps of these birds in spring. Some make it derive from Marza-Porto, Memi-Piccolo: Piccolo Porto.

The village is almost entirely surrounded by the Ionian sea and the level is lower than the sea. On the Ionian Sea, the two islets of MARZAMEMI meet: the small one, on which stands an elegant villa, owned by the family of Prof. R. Brancati; the large one, which forms like an entrance curve into a recent port formed by the islet itself and by an arm of very strong concrete walls, which extends into the sea. The inhabitants of the said village are all devoted to fishing: it was already well known, since ancient times for the trap, which was the second in Sicily, after that of Favignana (near Trapani) and, now, it works occasionally every five years. The few families who live there are almost all from Syracuse (some from Avola), of which they reflect civic customs, kind and strongly religious.

Marzamemi is as old as the tonnara. In 1752 the palace of the Prince of Villadorata, owner of the entire historic center of Marzamemi, and the church of the Tonnara were built. Marzamemi has on its coast, two small natural ports called “Fossa” and “Balata”. In the past, navigation, especially between Marzamemi and Genoa, was very active for the wine trade, especially before the construction of the Pachino-Marzamemi-Noto-Avola-Syracuse railway. Marzamemi can be considered as the beach of Pachino: in the summer, in fact, its population increases considerably, due to the large influx of vacationers, coming from Pachino and above all from foreign countries.


In the historic center of Marzamemi, and part of the tonnara, is the town square, called: Piazza Regina Margherita. The square is surrounded by streets where Via Letizia and Via Principe Villadorata converge and is limited, in part, by the fishermen’s houses. The two façades of the churches, the old and the new, both dedicated to San Francesco di Paola, protector of the village, and the façade of the Palazzo del Principe di Villadorata, owner of the trap, also overlook the square. on your left, it was built for the munificence of the supreme pontiff Pius XI. The elevation is simple, straightforward. In the center, above the portal, stands a rose window, in a romantic style. The facade is divided into three vertical sections, delimited by two side pillars. The entrance door is made of grooved wood and is preceded by three marble steps. The elevation ends with the gable roof. The roof of the whole church is sloping. On the left, for the viewer, in front, you can see the bell tower, located at the same height as the roof of the church. The church is built in white stone.


The fishermen’s houses, on your left, go around the square and give the landscape a uniform aspect. They date back to 1600, the year in which the tonnara was built. In 1752, on the occasion of the construction of the Palazzo del Principe di Villadorata, the sailors’ houses were renovated. Currently most of them are uninhabited, because they are worn out by time. The houses were built with stone blocks, have a square shape and a sloping roof. The most characteristic is the “oven house”, so called because it has a huge brick oven inside. The oven supplied bread to all the inhabitants of the tonnara. Currently the house has the house number 7, but it is uninhabited.

The ancient church, was built like the Prince’s palace in 1752, is all in sandstone, is raised, has three stone steps, which lead to the entrance door. Inside, the church has a single nave, it had a central altar, unfortunately, collapsed; on the sides there are two minor altars, identical, supported by small columns, and above, two niches. The roof of the church has completely collapsed. Only a part of the bell tower and an arch next to it remain.


The palace of the Prince of Villadorata also overlooks the square, occupying the entire west side. It was built in 1752, in sandstone. The entrance consists of a wooden door, whose portal is represented by an arch, which has, in the center, a key with the family crest. On the left side of the facade, there is a balcony and a door. On the edge, next to the last door, there is a marble plaque, dedicated to the fallen in war. On the right side of the facade, there are two square windows, protected by railings. On the upper part of the façade, placed at the same height and at the same distance from each other, there are five channels (two have been lost) for draining rainwater, which have the shape of large shelves, ending at the front with human viri. The building has no artistic beauties inside, it was full of furniture, paintings, silverware, precious objects; but it was sacked during the last world war. A large central courtyard gives air and light to the interiors; a stone staircase, with two flights, leads to the prince’s apartment, which has a very simple structure. From this apartment you enter a large terrace, where seats were built, now in stone, destroyed by time. The terrace walls have loopholes, which were used to shoot pirates. Also from the prince’s apartment, but, from the opposite side of the terrace, you enter a small balcony, from which the prince looked out, to check the work of the fishermen in the warehouse below. This warehouse called: “Camperia”, has arches, on which sacred images and bowls were placed, intended for offerings for the patron’s feast. Inside the warehouse are the boats used for tuna fishing, the “scieri”, the “chatte”, the hooks (which were used to pull up the fish) and the nets. In a corner of the warehouse, there was a small office where the registration and weighing of tuna took place.


The tonnara of Marzamemi was planted by the Arabs during their domination in Sicily. In 1630 (as per the purchase contract it exists in the state archive of Syracuse) a Spanish nobleman residing in Palermo decided to sell the trap to the Prince of Villadorata, descendant of an English admiral of Russian origin. This admiral named Nicolajev was shipwrecked with his cargo near the beach of noto where he was well received by the Governor of Noto. The Nicolaci di Villadorata improved the tuna building and brought in expert carpenters from Avola and Syracuse, who took permanent residence in Marzamemi. In 1752 the palace and the church of the tonnara were built, and all the houses of the sailors were adapted.

In 1912, a factory was built in Marzamemi for processing salted tuna first and then tuna in oil. Tuna fishing was abundant until 1951, in 1952 the Augusta Rasiom came into operation and the significant decline in fishing began in all the seven traps: Santa Panascia – Terruzza – Fontane Bianche – Avola – Bafuto Vendicari – Marzamemi and Capo Passero.


The “Balata” is, together with the “Fossa”, one of the two small natural ports of Marzamemi. La Balata is like a small square, limited in part by houses, and in part by the sea. It is paved with compact limestone paving stones, with a rectangular shape. Inside the “Balata” space there are two buildings, the “old Factory” and the “Casa Cappuccio”.

The “Old Factory”, where ice was produced, is preceded by a large arch, is of ancient construction and belongs to the Prince of Villadorata. Next to the “Old Factory” is the “Casa Cappuccio”, an ancient house, today, unfortunately in ruins, also owned by the Prince. The “Casa Cappuccio”, so called from the name of a tenant of the trap, is very important for the point where it is located, in fact, three of the four facades face the sea.

The facade, closer to the sea, has a terrace which ends with a very characteristic protective wall. From the remains, it can be seen that the house had, in addition to the ground floor, an upper floor, with a terrace overlooking the natural harbor.

Source: www.zonasud.org/pachino