Sicily – an explorers dream. Stunning landscapes, beautiful coastlines with crystal clear water and lots of abandoned villages and factories. Just a short walk from one of Sicily’s most stunning beaches – san vito lo capo – lies a historic (and abandoned) reminder of the islands predominant industry. Sicily once was a powerhouse when it came to fishing, and its coastline was dotted with “Tonnare” – Tuna Fish Factories. With aggressive industrialization and the decline of the local fishing industry, the Tonnara closed down one by one. Some were converted into luxurious properties, while others like the Tonnara del Secco were left abandoned becoming an unofficial landmark for the region.
Sicily’s tuna fishing industry really kicked off when Ferdinand I of Aragon became King of Sicily and granted the locals to fish the Santivese Sea. Despite the fact that the area had been used for fishing since the 4th Century BC, the first “real” Tuna Fishery on the western gulf of Castellammare was established here in 1412. The Tonnara del Secco was placed up for sale at auction in 1865, and was snapped up by the aristocrat Cav. Vito Foderà who was already the owner of several other properties including the Tonnara Magazzinazzi di Castellamare. In the same year, Cav. Vito Foderà financed the expansion of the Tonnara del Secco which now included a large garden in the back and a front sea facing terrace. The expansion marked the most prosperous years of the Tonnara, with it processing and selling Tuna throughout Sicily, Livorno, Naples and La Spezia. After Cav. Vito Foderàs death in 1911, the property was passed on to his son and brother. Either the two had no interest in running the Fishery, or were unable to – but in 1914 all production activities ceased and the machinery was transferred off to different locations. From 1920 to 1929, the Tuna Fishery was rented out and managed by the Monticciolo Brothers. In 1929, the fishery was bought up by the brothers Giovanni and Giuseppe Plaja di Castellammare del Golfo. Sadly after a few seasons of poor catches and the increase of labour costs, the Tonnara del Secco ceased operations permanently on the 26th of June, 1965. This marked the end of a historic Sicilian institution.
Not much has happened since its closure in 1965. The industrial ruin on Sicily coast remains abandoned (the abandoned Nail factory in Germany has a similar story). While it is technically still owned by someone (my best guess is that it still belongs to the Plaja family) – its been left to itself. A conversion into a luxurious property like the nearby Tonnara di Scopello is a fate reserved for George Clooney movie locations (check out the scene in Oceans 12). Maybe its better that the Tonnara del Secco hasn’t been discovered yet because as soon as the media blitz happened, the local beach became private property which you now have to pay for.
There isn’t much left of the Tonnara del Secco. The outer walls have survived the years like an ottoman fortress, and obviously someone is keeping a watch as any and all entrances have been boarded up. Somebody even went through the effort to buy some warning signs. Based on the tripadvisor reviews it seems like they’re doing a good job as no one has really been able to venture inside. Despite being guarded like Constantinople under siege – there are ways inside, but there’s little to see. A large interior courtyard with an obelisk like chimney, a few empty storage halls, and some crumbling machine halls.
Even if there isnt much left to see of the Tonnara inside – the abandoned tuna factory is a great little place to visit. The crystal clear water and the shallow pools along the rocky coast make for a fantastic little swimming spot which a few of the savvy locals flock to, to avoid the bustling beaches of San Vito lo Capo. And we can only agree – its hard to beat the majestic scenery of the mountains and abandoned tonnara while going for a swim. We missed this spot the first time we visited the area – but its now become one of our favorite locations on the Sicilian coast. If you are ever in the area – this is definitely worth a visit.
Tonnara del Secco
Via del Secco,
91010 Zarbo di Mare