On the south-eastern tip of Sicilia, practically as far as you can travel on land before you must inevitably fall off the cliff edge and start a long swim towards Malta, there is a prominent headland. As you drive down the coastal road towards your destination there are no tantalising hints, no tiny glimpses, not even a suggestion that you are going in the right direction; not until your GPS says you are only a few hundred yards away.

And then ... ! POW ! ... the castle practically leaps onto your bonnet. The wow factor of turning the corner and suddenly seeing this magnificent building with little or no warning is absolutely immense.

At first sight Tafuri Castle looks incredibly majestic and very old, and it has proved extremely difficult to date the building and the adjacent tuna cannery with 100% accuracy. Despite some aspects of its appearance hinting at a much older construction, perhaps as early as the mid to late 1800s, the predominance of Art Nouveau stylistic embellishments actually points to a probable date in the late 1920s or early 1930s. The best evidence we have unearthed so far indicates a completion date towards the end of 1935. The delicately coloured stone from which it is built was quarried on Isola delle Correnti (The Island of Currents) which sits literally on the southern tip of Sicilia 4 miles away, and the architect who designed the castle was Saverino Crotti from Florence.

A view from the original architect's drawings -  ABOVE .        

The bay below the headland upon which the castle is constructed faces almost directly southeast and it is very sheltered from the prevailing winds by a large island a little further out to sea on the same axis. The high, steep sided cliffs directly behind the bay to the northwest, shield it from winds from that direction, and so all that was required to convert the bay into a very safe harbour was the construction of a small breakwater and a slipway. To this day the bay is still used for mooring luxury yachts and small boats of all shapes and sizes.

Tuna migrates into the warmer waters of the Mediterranean from the cold Atlantic Ocean for part of the year and when the season begins it was, and still is, fished off Sicily " la mattanza". This is the name for the traditional method involving netting the huge fish by hand from boats which often have with no engines. Once the nets have been progressively pulled tight and the huge tuna brought up to just below the surface they are gaffed out of the water into the boats -  LEFT . The Italian name for this fishing technique translates as "the slaughter", and the sea literally turns red with the blood of the fish. At first sight this method appears to be quite barbaric however it is actually a very sustainable form of fishing, unlike modern trawling which indiscriminately nets all shapes, sizes and species of fish in the immediate vicinity causing death en masse for literally anything caught in the net. Dolphins also die in huge numbers by drowning when they are caught in the nets of conventional tuna trawlers.

At some point a local man, Signor Bruno di Belmonte, built a tuna cannery in the bay immediately below the headland in order to tap into the wealth the ber abundance of tuna was creating, and long before the progressive decline in numbers hit the trade he had made an absolute fortune. With his bank account bulging at the metaphorical seams an appropriate status symbol was required so he set about elaborately decorating the cannery in mock-Grecian style, and finally he built himself the ultimate status symbol - a beautiful mansion - on the headland immediately above the bay. 

In the nearby village which still has a church dating back to the 1500s, most of the 50 or so inhabitants worked at the cannery, but the writing was on the wall for both their livelihoods and the cannery itself. Massive over-fishing of the Mediterranean (and all seas for that matter) has resulted in fish stocks plummeting in a relatively short time - I first dived off Malta in 1980 and at that time the sea there was literally wall to wall fish, albeit small species. After an absence of about 25 years I dived again and I could not believe how barren it had become in so few years. Cyprus too was much the same - on one dive to 100 feet plus in 2007 we counted a grand total of ten small fish in an hour long dive. Inevitably with such a huge slump in tuna numbers the cannery was soon suffering financial difficulties and eventually it closed down putting the locals out of work. The di Belmonte family could no longer afford the upkeep of the Castle and that too was eventually put up for sale.

In either the 1950s or the 1970s, depending upon which version of the story you read, along came a Signor Tafuri from Pachino, the nearest town some three miles northwest as the crow flies. With money he had carefully saved from the successful pharmacy he had run for many years he was able to buy the Castle and he set about transforming it into a luxury hotel and restaurant. No expense was spared and it was decorated throughout with luxury carpets, expensive paintings and suits of armour. For a while everything went well and business up on the headland boomed. It became the destination of choice for many actors, celebrities and entertainers of the time and local people would visit the hotel for special occasions such as weddings etc. As a result the hotel was booked solid throughout most of the year and even during the quiet winter months when other hotels saw a drop off in customer numbers Tafuri Castle did well.

Then in 1990 Signor Tafuri died. Ordinarily this should not have been a problem but the spectre of greed soon reared its ugly head as the relatives of Signor Tafuri fought over who would inherit the Castle. Before too long no one would pay the caretaker's wages and then when he left no one would pay for security. As always happens when a property stands empty for more than a few weeks the house was looted, squatters moved in, and before too long anything with any value had been stripped out, even down to the electrical wiring and plumbing.

And inevitably the house began to slide down the road to dereliction.

  RIGHT  - a view of Tafuri Castle on a postcard during its heyday as a hotel.

There seems to have been little in the way of interest in the Castle since it fell into disrepair though with an asking price in excess of five million Euros it is hardly likely to be snapped up by the likes of you or me. One interesting anecdote we uncovered whilst researching the Castles history is that the wife of Formula One driver Michael Schumacher fell in love with the place when she was visiting Sicilia in 2008. Clearly he didn't share her enthusiasm though or I suspect our access would not have been quite so easy when we explored the place in 2013!

It's a terrible shame to see such a stunning property sitting neglected and empty and we could not help but find ourselves comparing it to another beautiful mansion that is also slowly decaying - Chateau Miranda in Belgium.

 

Below is a selection of the photographs we took in and around Tafuri Castle and the adjacent tuna cannery in June, 2013.

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Our first sight of Tafuri Castle.
 
We wander up the drive quietly.
 
Art Nouveau embellishments abound!
 
The principle lounge.
 
Imagine waking up to this view every morning!
 
Looking down off the patio onto the pool.
 
Looking along the patio.

 
Time to wander back inside again.

 

When it became a hotel the owner gave it something of a Medieval feel.
 

From lounge to lounge to restaurant!
 
The second lounge.
 
TJ frames a shot.
 
Covered ways offer shade and an escape from the sun.
 
This internal garden must have been lovely once.
 
Attention to detail abounds.
 
In the restaurant now.
 
Anyone for pizza?
 
Today children we will look through the arched window!
 
The tuna cannery and harbour down in the bay below.
 
The main hall.
 
Time to go up methinx!
 
...and now we will look through the round window!

 
Did Giggio enjoy riding on his Vespa I wonder?

 

The cannery chimney with its wrought iron entwined tuna emblem can be seen from so many windows!
 

Looking across the roof tops from the first floor.
 
Terracotta chimney pots.
 
I wonder if this tiny patio had hand rails at one time?
 
Room with a view... and a balcony!
 
There's the cannery again.
 
Mock battlements.
 
The tower.
 
You can just see the island from this bedroom.
 
Up, up up!
 
No wonder she's smiling!
 
The roof tops again from the second floor this time.
 
What an amazing place to sit out.
 
Oh for 5.5 million and the lads from Auf Wiedersehen Pet!
 
How inviting does that sea look???
 
The tower again.
 
Time to go back downstairs once more.
 
One of the few places where there has been a roof collapse.
 
The main lobby.
 
M in pensive mood, wishing for a windfall!
 
It might be relatively modern but it is so tasteful.
 
A last look back.
 
Time to go do the cannery now.

 
The house dominates the workers view.

 

Signor Bruno decorated the cannery in mock-Grecian style. There are Ionic pillars and busts everywhere you look.
 

Wandering down the dock access road into the cannery proper.
 
A bust sits a'top a building wall...
 
...and here's another!
 

Talk about pretensions of grandeur! Check out the marble freeze on the wall!


 

And we're on the harbour front now. The building to the right was clearly a home for a Sicilian Harry Ramp so we didn't do too much noseying about, especially as we knew he was about somewhere from the smell of a burning "rollie".
 

The cannery chimney, looking suitably obelisk-esque,  with the house in the distance.


 

Even the chimney has a statuette adorning it!


 

We think the little platform atop this part of the factory was for a look out to be posted to warn when the mattanza boats were approaching.
 

Sadly most of the cannery roofs have collapsed now.


 
A forest of roof support columns.



 
The house dominates the skyline.



 

What must it have been like for the owner to wake up and look down at his factory knowing the money was pouring in? And what must it have felt like when it all imploded after so few years of the gravy train?
 

 

 

 

 

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A double whammy of  Hellenic embellishment!
 
I think Signor Bruno was a wannabe Pharaoh too!