Vendicari Nature Reserve is located along Sicily’s Ionian coast south of Siracusa between Avola and Pachino. Vendicari is Europe’s southernmost marshland, and in 1984 was included among the “Wetlands of International Importance” , a protected reserve covering an extensive area. There are some old structures in the area, such as a late-medieval watch tower and ancient Greek and Roman archaeological sites. Inside the Reserve are brackish marshes dating back to the Greek period that once were used as salt beds from which salt was extracted and used to preserve fish in the nearby tuna plant. Later, a small necropolis has been discovered. in Byzantine period (till IV century A.C.), the site was inhabited in the south part testified by the presence of a church, catacombs and houses. The dangers of the coast forced the inhabitants to abandon the site for the inner areas such as Pantalica.
Next to the tonnara you see the so-called Torre Sveva, the Swabian Tower, which actually dates from the period of the Catalan domination (it was built by Peter of Aragon, 1416-1458), fresh from a restoration. It was a military structure designed to defend this area of the coast, and its economic activities, from attacks from the sea. A century later, the building was remodeled by the viceroy Giovanni de Vega, conferring to the structure the current form. The tower was used as a watch point to spy the raids of pirate ships and possible enemies’ attacks. Here is set an episode of the famous series Montalbano Inspector.
On the tip that demarcates the “Cala delle Mosche” (“Cove of the Flies”) rise the ruins of a shed and of an industrial plant for the preparation of tuna, abandoned after the war, ceased its activities in 1943. A high chimney also stands on the complex. The Tonnara dates back to the 18th century, although the atmospheric remains of the structure that one sees (consolidated and rendered fit for use by a recent restoration) actually date from 1920, when they tried a more distinctly “industrial” approach (as evidenced by the chimney) to this traditional activity. in the period of greatest expansion had 40 employees, including two rais (the first of Avola Pachino and his deputy). However, the activity itself is more ancient, going back to Greek times, as the archaeological remains of facilities for the processing of fish (such as tanks dug into the rock) can attest.
There are four access points to the Reserve: one in the area of Eloro; one near Cava delle Mosche where the famous Cala Mosche beach is located; the main entrance is located at the Torre Sveva where the main beach in the reserve is located; another entrance is located at Cittadella dei Maccari, the location of an ancient Byzantine settlement where a small temple and a necropolis are still visible today.
Vendicari Nature Reserve has a humid, coastal climate and is of great biological importance due to the presence of different biotopes: rocky and sandy coastlines, Mediterranean scrub, marshes (both salt water and fresh water), salt pans, moorland and cultivated areas. In this particular kind of ecosystem only certain species of animals and plants are able to live and grow. The high salinity of the ground provides an ideal habitat for Mediterranean maquis, herbs such as thyme and rosemary and other prickly customers such as juniper bushes. Thousands of migrating birds stop at Vendicari: waders, herons, storks, flamingos, and, also, mallards, gulls, cormorants and the knight of Italy that stops here on his journey from the Sahara desert to nesting places in northern Europe. Flamingos, herons, storks and cormorants are regulars during autumn, while in the winter, ducks, mallards, pintails and terns take over. An ornithologists’ paradise, there are several hides for those who bring their binoculars. The month of December is the best for birdwatching. In addition to birds, in Vendicari you can admire amphibians such as the green toad (Bufo siculus), alofilo and much rarer than the common toad (Bufo bufo); among reptiles is easy to meet the rat snake (Green whip snake), a medium-sized snake, the leopard snake (Elaphe situla) and the Sicilian pond turtle (Emys trinacris). Among mammals we remember the fox, the hedgehog, the porcupines and wild rabbits. The beaches of Vendicari are famous because they are chosen as a place of spawning for the sea turtle Caretta Caretta.
Within the reserve it is also visible a stretch of ancient Via Elorina, the road linking the colony of Eloro and Syracuse. In the southern part of the Reserve there is still the complex of Byzantine age (V / VI century AD) called Citadella of Maccari, Maccari’s village.
The first information about the existence of the Vendicari salt marshes date back to 400, thesis later supported by the studies accomplished by Fazello. The salt marshes of Vendicari had economic importance for a long time, used to support the activities of the tuna fishery traps. The first systems date back to the fifteenth century, and some traces are still visible in in the Pantano Grande. Probably the area of the bog was used even in the Greek era, testified by the remains of tanks for fish processing. This does not exclude the production of salted fish and the use of salt for local communities. Then, the salines supported the activities of the trap remain in activity until 1951, when a flood destroyed the area. That event caused the closure of the structure, as the competition of other salines had rendered uneconomic this kind of activity. Today the salt pans are used by migratory birds as an oasis of refreshment and are considered as one of the most important attractions of the reserve.
EAST TIPS: There are no lidos or bar in the Reserve, so it is essential to take water with you. If you eat snacks, throw trash in the appropriate spaces. Do not pollute the Reserve.