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The tuff caves and the gardens

The tuff caves and “the pirriatura” (the stone cutters)

For the past ten years in the centre of Favignana, an extraordinary stone, improperly called tuff, had been extracted from the cave. It is calcarenite, a porous white concentrated calcium stone, used in particular for building constructions. This stone as well as the production of “cantuna”, tuff bricks shaped as parallelepiped, had represented a most ancient activity of the Island. This activity was so intensive that the morphologic aspect of the Island had been modified. It took the shape of an incredible monument, a sort of artistic sculpture that was seen more like a real cathedral than a cave. Also this area had been molded by stone cutters, called pirriatori, who gave life and shape to the tuff stone.
This craftsmanship was hard manual work done with simple artisan tools, but in 1949 the first electric machine began to cut tuff stone. This activity was and still is passed down from generation to generation. With the passing of time the cave of Favignana started to feel the crisis due to the changes in the tuff market. The particular location of this cave made it difficult and expensive to extract the tuff so Favignana became less competitive. Consequently, as time went by lots of the caves ceased their activity.

The Ipogei Gardens

The tuff caves not in use anymore were transformed by the islanders into fruit, vegetables and flowers gardens. Thanks to the tall tuff walls which protect plants from the wind, and the pure light of the sun, the islanders have been able to create ideal habitats for the natural green houses, which allow a hot climate in winter and fresh climate in summer. These caves, called “Giardini Ipogei”, can be seen along the roads, in which thriving plants and trees like fig, almond, pear, orange and prickly pear grow, with colour and perfumes characterizing this generous land.

The tuff artists

We could say the creator of this form of craftsmanship was surely Rosario Santamaria, known as “U Zu Sarino”. He was very acquainted with the tuff stone. His art gallery was in the port of Favignana where the islanders and tourists stopped to watch him while he sculptured head portraits from tuff stone. He died in 1992 but he has left his art in heritage to the local artist.