It is so nice to be out on anchor surrounded by the sea. The water in Portopalo is a beautiful turquoise colour and with the water temperature now 21 degrees, we had our first swim of the season.
The anchorage is protected from all directions except the south, after a couple of days we started to get some swell which was rolling us around. The forecast was that it would increase from the south so we decided to move around the corner to the next bay called Capo Passero. Here we would be protected from the south by a small rocky island, Isola di Capo Passero, just a short distance from the coast.
As we went around the island on our approach to the bay we were able to see a lighthouse and fort on the highest point of the island. The fort, il Fort di Capo Passero, was Commissioned in 1599 by the crown of Spain and in 1871 a lighthouse was built on the terrace of the fort which was operated by the Italian Navy until it was decommissioned in the late 1950s.
We anchored in the clear crystal blue sea of Capo Passero, it is a beautiful bay which we had all to ourselves.
At the end of the 19th century, Signor Bruno di Belmonte built a tuna cannery in the bay and made an absolute fortune. In 1935, flushed by his success, he built himself a beautiful castle on a nearby hill. We were anchored just in front of this interesting architecture.
Much of it now in ruins, the tuna fishery was a flourishing business in the twentieth century. When it was in operation it would have represented a vitally important economic resource for the entire local population. Work would begin in early March each year with the repair and maintenance of the great oak boats (nearly twenty metres long) and the heavy nets would be looked over and mended. The great anchors were laid strategically on the seabed creating a sort of passageway that channelled the fish into the “death chamber”. The catch was then unloaded ashore and carried on trolleys to a great hall where they were gutted and cleaned.
Following the building of the castle in 1935, it was then purchased in 1957 by the Tafuri family who extended it and transformed the property as a hotel, it was operated by a third party until its closing in 1998. In 2016, the hotel was renovated and re-opened under the Tafuri name and is now a very smart waterfront hotel.
Whilst sitting out in the evening we looked up to the clear starlit sky and saw what looked like a string of Christmas lights travelling through space. Apparently it was a satellite train, part of the massive network being launched by Elon Musk and his SpaceX company! (Unfortunately my camera was not able to capture a picture of it)
After a couple of days here we left the anchorage to head up the coast to Marzamemi where we had booked into the small marina. We planned to travel by hire car from here back to Ragusa for our 2nd vaccine.
The vaccine centre had moved from the hospital to the sports centre which had been set up with various separate areas and cubicles making the process much more efficient. This time we were in and out quickly. We are very thankful that we are now fully vaccinated and have our certificate to prove how brave we were!
On our way back to Marzamemi we stopped for lunch at Ispica. Another picturesque baroque town which was restyled after the earthquake of 1693.
We walked around the Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia, a pretty square with palm trees, statues and a fountain. The Church of Saint Bartolomeo looks out over the piazza, dating back to 1750 when the building work commenced, it took a century and a half to complete. Outside the church sits a large gecko.
We continued on down some narrow streets to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore which also dates back to the 18th century.
In front of the church and all around is a semi circular piazza with a pretty portico, Loggiato del Sinatra, built in 1749 by architect Vincenzo Sinatra who copied Bernini’s arcade in St. Peter’s Square in Rome. There are twenty-three logge (halls) which hosted fairs organised on the occasion of various religious festivities and for the protection of pilgrims. Presently these are subject to a conservative restoration.
The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and Loggiato del Sinatra have been made famous recently being the backdrop for a story featuring everyone’s favourite Sicilian policeman, Inspector Montalbano.