Scopello10by Jeremy Dummett

Scopello is a small village close to the town of Castellammare del Golfo, situated some 70 kilometres from Palermo. It lies near a rocky coastline on the edge of a nature reserve called the Zingaro. Further up the coast, on the north-western most point of Sicily, can be found the beach resort of San Vito lo Capo. Occupied since ancient times, Scopello takes its name from the Greek scopelos, or Latin scopulus, for rock. The term faraglioni refers to a particular kind of rock formation, where pieces of rock have been shaped by centuries of erosion by the waves. The most famous are in the Bay of Naples off the coast of Capri. The faraglioni of Scopello, however, are equally spectacular.

Scopello is situated on a raised position in walking distance of the sea. The central piazza has an ancient fountain with a trough filled with drinking water. Alleyways lead down the hill, containing bars, restaurants and hotels, some with clear views of the sea. Near the piazza, a gate leads into an ancient baglio, or agricultural settlement, closed in on all sides by low walls. The colourful central courtyard, which contains fig trees, oleanders and numerous pots of geraniums, has recently been developed with shops and bars and is a pleasant place to relax and escape the heat of the sun.

Scopello3Below at sea level lies a small bay containing an old tonnara (tuna fish processing plant), now renovated, which faces the sea out of which rise the faraglioni. An early morning swim in these waters, before other people have arrived, is one of the great pleasures that Sicily has to offer. On the nearby hillside are the remains of ancient buildings dating back to when the Arabs ruled Sicily in the ninth and tenth centuries.

Gavin Maxwell, a Scot who spent time in Sicily in the 1950s and who wrote the story of the bandit Giuliano, thought when he first came to Scopello that it was the most beautiful place he had ever seen. Describing the view of the bay from the village, he wrote:

And immediately one is looking down on the sea a mile below, a sea of purple and blue and peacock green, with a jagged cliff coastline and great rock towers or faraglioni thrusting up out of the water as pinnacle islands, pale green with the growth of cactus at their heads. The track winds down on the line of least resistance, through vines and bamboo clumps and scattered olives standing in low green corn, and everywhere there are flowers of a myriad colours; thistles of blue and of yellow and of purple, and poppies, and many, many, whose names I did not know.

(Gavin Maxwell, The Ten Pains of Death, Alan Sutton Publishing, Gloucester, 1959)