Salt and Rain

On Monday, we visited the Museum of Salt near the town of Marsala, the home of Marsala Wine. The museum is actually a working salt facility that produces 10,000 tons of salt per year from ocean water. The salt in this facility is produced entirely with manual labor in a similar manner to what the Phoenicians used when they arrived some 2700 years ago. The facility has numerous, interconnected salt pans with four different levels of salt concentration. The first salt pans, with the lowest concentration of salt, are at sea level and are filled through a sluice at high tide. The second salt pans are at the highest elevation and were originally filled by pumps powered by windmills.Today, water is moved from pan to pan by turning a crank on a hand pump as demonstrated here by one of our fellow travelers. Since the second salt pans are the highest in elevation, gravity and sluice gates can be used to move water to salt pans three and four. In the photo above, water is being pumped out of a fourth salt pan with the highest salt concentration. Salt is harvested from these fourth level salt pans in the summer. There are two types of salt obtained: crystals from the bottom which must be broken up by people standing in the pan and using a type of spade to break it up so it can be shoveled and flor de sal which forms on the surface of the water and is shoveled out with a sieve type of shovel. The crystal production is 10,000 tons per year and the flor de sal production is a few pounds per day per salt pan making it the most expensive salt in the world. The flor de sal can only be harvested by hand. The salt is harvested in the summer months when the temperatures frequently reach 100 F.Brine shrimp are common in the first three stages of salt pans which attracts the flamingoes. The salt level is two high in the fourth stage for brine shrimp so no flamingoes are found there.We all donned boots to walk through the salt pans. Why does Susan always get the best looking shoes???The water was very shallow in the pan as the harvest was completed for the year.All the tiles you see around the salt pile are used to cover the pile in the winter to keep the rain off the salt but allow it to continue to dry. There is a salt master who determines when to move water from one pan to the next and when to harvest.After touring the salt museum, we took a boat past the biggest windmill to the nearby island of Mothya, a Phoenician settlement and trading outpost built 2700 years ago. It is now an uninhabited island with a museum and several archeological sites. We had a “picnic” lunch on the island and finished it with some Marsala wine that Laura had bought for us.Here our luck ran out. We had been doing well with the rain showers occurring an opportune times that didn’t interfere with our explorations. The rain began just as we were going to leave on our one hour hike to the archeological sites. We started on the hike, but decided it wasn’t worth it in the rain.We spent the hour chatting with our fellow travelers. It was still an interesting day.

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