Marzamemi is an ancient fishing village, with a magic all of its own. Things to see are admittedly limited, but when put all together they have the effect of creating a dreamlike atmosphere, suspended in time, worthy of a movie. In fact, this place has been used as a location for numerous films, including “Sud” (South), from 1993, by Gabriele Salvadores.
A short distance from the San Corrado di Noto Resort, we find Marzamemi, which most likely derives its name from the Arabic “Marsà al hamen”, that is, harbour of the turtledoves, coined because of the crowds of birds flocking there during the migratory season. Other academics see the etymology of Marzamemi as deriving from “marsa” and “memi”, which when put together would mean, again in Arabic, “safe harbour”.
It can be seen clearly from this alone that the birth and development of the village occurred due to Arab domination in Sicily.
Indeed, it was the Arabs who, around 1000 AD, constructed the tuna fishery (tonnara), which was to develop to the extent of becoming the most important in the island and in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, along with Favignana. It was the princely Villadorata who provided a strong stimulus for the development of the village, reconstructing the fishermen’s homes (dating from the 17th century), expanding the fishery, commissioning the construction of the Church of San Francesco de Paola and in 1752, the Prince’s residence, the Palazzo Villadorata.
During the 19th century, the fishery passed into the hands of the Nicolaci family, owners of the masseria that today houses our resort.
Right since its inception, Marzamemi has been a port noted for the transit of goods. For this reason, though small, it actually has two harbours: la Fossa and la Balata (name deriving from the Arabic “balad”, a clear reference to stone slabs, and thus to the fact it was paved).
La Balata is a place of incomparable beauty, with a thousand fascinating stories to tell. Soak up the view from the paving stones washed by seawater – on one side the meeting-point of the Ionian and the Mediterranean, behind you the tuna fishery, the pretty Casa Cappuccio, the neat fishermen’s cottages and the cobbled streets of the centre.
Watching the sun going down here in the evening is an experience that is difficult to describe in words, a memory crafted for eternity. A boat trip around the nearby islets brings big surprises, such as the wreck of a Byzantine ship just offshore.
There is a plethora of culinary delights to be sampled in Marzamemi: red tuna bottarga (roe), red tuna steaks, mosciame (filleted salt-cured red tuna), sundried Pachino tomatoes, smoked swordfish, yellow melons, almond granita, Nero d’Avola red wine and much, much more.
Nature around here is distinctly luxuriant, bearing succulent fruits. It is no coincidence that just a stone’s throw away we find the Nature Reserve and Wildlife Oasis of Vendicari.
Wander around the ancient streets, listen to the stones murmuring legends, drop in at a restaurant to appreciate the tastiness of tuna and try out the combinations of traditional dishes, where every single ingredient is emphasised in an explosion of flavour.
If you feel like a swim, head for the beach of the Isola delle Correnti, the most stunning in the area, and don’t forget to visit the Sveva Tower and the Casa del Forno, once the bakery that supplied the whole town with bread.
You’ll arrive in Marzamemi with a particular notion of what time is and you’ll come away totally changed, with a sensation of having been suspended in time, where everything seems real and unreal at the same time, past and future, in a harmonious equilibrium that is impossible to find anywhere else.