Italians on Italians
Beyond Toscano

The deepest secrets of Sicily

The largest island in the Mediterranean and constant butt of ‘being kicked by Italy’ jokes, Sicily holds a secret buried deeper than any mafia grave. Did you know, it’s home to some of Europe’s biggest underground salt-mines? The volcanic rock is rich in minerals and incredibly strong, making it perfect for deep excavation. Every day thousands of tonnes of rocksalt are brought to the surface of quarries from where they’re transported onto ships at Porto Empedocle and sent all over Europe and beyond. 

In Realmonte near Agrigento there’s even a church embedded deep in the salt mine, with altar, steps, frescos and crucifix all painstakingly carved out of the salt face. The ‘Church of the Mine Salt’ celebrates Santa Barbara, the miners’ protector, and is well and truly off the beaten track of most visitors to the area.

Mile upon mile of ghostly white tunnels stretch underground, silent but for the occasional passing of a giant piece of machinery, or drills at the end. Even above ground, salt in Sicily is big business, with natural salt marshes flooding regularly, only to evaporate under the hot Italian sun to reveal their treasure.