The Tonnara di Favignana

The Tonnara di Favignana (whose full name translates to Former Florio Tuna Factory of Favignana and Formica) is one of the most important industrial heritage sites in Sicily. Bluefin tuna fishing in Favignana and the Egadi Islands has ancient roots, but it was not until 1860 that the first tuna processing plant was built. In 1876, Ignazio Florio bought Favignana and the Egadi islands. Thanks to him, the factory grew to become one of Europe’s largest industrial complexes in the 19th century. A visit to the old Tonnara Florio also includes a permanent exhibition of photographs by Herbert List and a video presentation entitled ‘Torino’ edited by Renato Alongi.

Fishing for bluefin tuna in the Egadi Islands

The history of bluefin tuna fishing has been intertwined with that of the Egadi Islands since prehistoric times. The oldest known representation of a Mediterranean fish is that of a tuna. It is a painting found in the Grotta del Genovese on the island of Levanzo and dates back to the Neolithic period. The Egadi Islands have always been a hotspot for bluefin tuna. In late spring, the tuna come into the Mediterranean through the Strait of Gibraltar and draw close to the coast to reproduce. Early references to tuna fishing in Sicily can be found in the works of Homer and Pliny. However, it was not until around the year 1000 that the Arabs first introduced the tuna fishing method. It is based on the construction of a system of nets that form sequentially arranged chambers from which the tuna, once inside, cannot leave.

History of the Tonnara di Favignana

Alcune scatole di tonno esposta nella Tonnara di Favignana

The first evidence of a tuna factory in Favignana dates back to 1577. The first factory building, where all the stages of processing freshly caught tuna were carried out, however, dates back to 1860: the so-called ‘Torino’ building. It was built by Giulio Drago from Genoa, who had taken over the management of the facilities from the Pallavicino family, the then owners of the Egadi Islands. The decisive turning point in the development of tuna fishing came in 1876, when Ignazio Florio bought Favignana and the Egadi Islands. The construction of the huge warehouses, fish-packing rooms and service facilities for all employees took place between 1881 and 1889. In addition, there was a large open area, known as a graveyard, for drying tuna heads, which were used to produce oil for industrial use. By the end of the 19th century, the Favignana and Formica tuna factory was one of the largest industrial complexes in Europe. In fact, it employed 350 workers on land and 150 tuna fishermen. The economic decline of the Florio family, which began in the early 20th century, also affected the tuna factory which, following several changes of ownership, closed down for good in the 1980s.

Visiting the Tonnara di Favignana

Immagine delle vecchie caldaie della Tonnara di Favignana

Nel 2010, dopo un lungo restauro durato cinque anni, l’Ex Stabilimento Florio delle Tonnare di Favignana e In 2010, after a long restoration that lasted five years, the Former Florio Tuna Factory of Favignana and Formica reopened to the public as a museum. The guided tour provides an insight into the history of the Florio family, that of the tuna factory and the practice of ‘mattanza’ (or tuna killing). In addition to visiting the factory itself, there is also a photographic exhibition, as well as a video presentation and examples of period films to enjoy.

Trizzana warehouse and women’s changing room

nside the Tonnara di Favignana, there is also a permanent photographic exhibition with shots by René Burri, Leonard Freed, Herbert List, Sebastião Salgado and Ferdinando Scianna. In the former Trizzana warehouse is the first section of the exhibition with works by the German photographer Herbert List. It is an entire reportage shot in Favignana during the 1951 mattanza, consisting of 35 black and white prints compiled by the Herbert List Estate. The second section of the permanent exhibition is set up in the former women’s changing room and includes black-and-white photographs from the Workers series by Sebastião Salgado, taken on Favignana in the early 1990s, René Burri’s portraits of the Tonnara in the 1950s, works from the 1970s by Leonard Freed and colour photographs from the 1980s by Ferdinando Scianna.

Former cargo area and ‘Torino’ video presentation

In the former cargo area, there is a video presentation edited by Renato Alongi entitled ‘Torino’. In the room, videos of 18 former Florio factory workers are played on a loop. It consists of a collection of oral testimonies, presented in visual form and composed of conversations, speeches and depictions. Proud, inquisitive and mocking expressions that, without any need for further explanation, express gestures and words that convey the meaning of the speeches made in front of the camera.

Former packing warehouses – Antiquarium

La sala dell'Antiquarium della Tonnara di Favignana. Ci sono i resti di anfore e di una nave romana

The Antiquarium houses an important archaeological collection from the Egadi Islands. The exhibits consist mainly of amphorae from the Graeco-Roman and Punic periods and anchor logs. Some of the most interesting artefacts include a 14th-century pewter flask, found in the waters of Bue Marino in Favignana, which still contained its original wine, and an example of a bronze rostrum, recovered off the island of Levanzo. The decisive battle that ended the First Punic War (241 BC) took place there.

Former coal warehouses

Inside the former coal warehouses there is a video presentation edited by Renato Alongi, entitled “The Death Room”. The death chamber was the final stage of the tuna’s journey through the tuna nets. Underwater images of schools of tuna are projected in a loop on large screens. The route through the chambers of the tuna trap is then presented from the fish’s perspective. The background music consists of a composition by Gianni Gebbia accompanied by the cialome, which are ancient Arab prayers that are sung by tuna fishermen during the mattanza.

Former salt warehouses

In the former salt warehouses, a film produced by the Istituto Nazionale Luce on tuna fishing can be viewed. The documentary, shot between 1924 and 1931, succeeds in capturing all the cultural aspects related to this practice, both the material ones (the production cycles) and the immaterial ones (embedded practices and practical knowledge).

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