The Egadi islands, due to their centrality in the Mediterranean Sea, have always been an obligatory crossroads of peoples and cultures. This geographical position made it a strategic and fundamental area for trade flows and for military purposes. In the Egadi Islands, the homonymous battle was fought, an epochal naval battle between the Romans and the Carthaginians, which took place in 241 BC. at the end of the First Punic War.
Over the years, remains of ancient human settlements have been found.
In Levanzo, already inhabited in the 10th millennium BC, several caves from prehistoric times have been discovered, the most famous being the Grotta del Genovese, an extraordinary site rich in prehistoric paintings and graffiti.
Favignana, as early as 700 BC, was inhabited by the Phoenicians, of which traces remain in the San Nicola area, in the caves where they lived, where they celebrated sacred rites and where they buried their dead.
In Marettimo, starting from the 2nd century BC, Carthaginian and Roman military garrisons were installed, today ruins.
The islands were for a long time subjected to the Roman dominion, affirmed with the famous battle of the Egadi. A tangible testimony of their presence can be found in Marettimo, on the site known precisely as Case Romane.
After five centuries, they passed under the Vandalic, Gothic and finally Saracen dominion. In the latter period, the island of Favignana became a point of defense and sighting structures were built such as the castles of Santa Caterina and San Leonardo.
Starting from 1081, Normans took turns, under which the castle of San Giacomo, Svevi, Angioini, Aragonesi, the Habsburgs, the Savoy and finally the Bourbons, with whom the islands merged into the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, arose.
Grotta del Genovese – Levanzo – prehistoric evidence
Egadi Battle – 421 BC
Beacons of Roman and Carthaginian ships
They were already owned by the Pallavicinos, when in 1841 Vincenzo Florio rented the tuna traps of Formica and Favignana, the largest and most important in Sicily.
However, despite the excellent profits, Vincenzo rescinded the contract, and the Genoese entrepreneur Drago took over the leasing of the traps, who commissioned the construction of the first premises of what would later become the Florio factory.
When Vincenzo died, his son Ignazio took control of the family businesses and, in 1874, bought the Egadi islands and the related land and sea rights, including traps. He gave an architectural identity to the island of Favignana, commissioning the architect Damiani Almeyda to build Palazzo Florio, Pretti and Camparia, and to expand the Florio factory, today a splendid example of industrial archeology.
The processing of tuna was the subject of an epochal innovation: from stowing in salt in wooden barrels, we moved on to conservation in oil and canning in tin, which not only improved the quality of the product, but also made it safer and more easily transportable. It was therefore in Favignana that the revolution of the tuna industry and canning began.
With the Florio family, the island experienced a period of prosperity: work and population increased, prosperity spread and industry became a symbol of excellence.
Bluefin tuna, a flagship product, and other catches were processed and packaged in oil in tin boxes that were distributed throughout Italy directly by the Florio fleet.
Ignazio senior died in 1891, bequeathing an extraordinary heritage to his children. Ignazio junior and his brother Vincenzo carried on the family businesses, until they lost everything.
Ignazio junior married Franca Jacona of San Giuliano, known as Donna Franca, the queen of Sicily. Together they managed to make Sicily the international salon of worldliness and Favignana as a coveted center by the elite during the period of the slaughter. The family, however, was hit by a series of personal misfortunes, but also by the economic depression of the end of the century and by the First World War. These events, combined with the kind of luxurious life they had always led, led the Florio family to bankruptcy. Their debts forced them to sell off all their possessions, including Donna Franca’s jewels, including the famous 7-meter long pearl necklace, and also the Egadi islands and the Favignana and Formica traps, which were bought by the Genoese Parodi family.
Despite the abrupt separation between the Florio and the Egadi islands, the memory of that flourishing period is still alive today and the immense cultural heritage left behind is enhanced.
Santa Caterina Castle – Favignana Island
Florio Tuna Factory – Favignana Island