I've visited Sicily but have never been to the Italian island of Pantelleria, which lies between Sicily and the African coast. It is on the same latitude as Tunis, but administratively part of Sicily.
Unusually for this web-site, the information here is entirely 'borrowed' from the internet, after I came across references to the ancient citrus gardens of Pantelleria.
I acknowledge and thank the sources, which are listed at the bottom of the page.
As I suspect few people will know where Pantelleria is - here's an
interactive map, courtesy of googlemaps.
Climate: Hot, dry, windy summers with average rainfall of less than 1" (25mm) for 4 months. There is no rain at all in July. Average minimum winter temperatures are around 50F (10C)
The inhabitants of Pantelleria, who by trade tend traditionally to be farmers rather than sailors, have tried to resolve the problem posed by the strong winds that blow during the greater part of the year and prevent trees from growing tall. The solution they have devised is the Pantelleria garden, a circular or square enclosure with high stone walls, in which one or more citrus trees might grow, protected from the wind. Sometimes these gardens are physically attached to a house, others might be situated in the centre of some field – an oasis of green, especially when seen from the air.
Donnafugata's Pantellerian garden holds a century-old orange tree of the Portugal variety and is an ingenious "vitamin factory" testifying to the way in which ancient methods can even now teach us to how deal with current global issues like the scarcity of food and water.
An extraordinary example of agrarian technology and architecture, the Pantellerian garden is able to grow and make fruitful a citrus tree, often grafted to bear three different varieties, in an “extreme” context where humans have always had to struggle against wind and drought. It is a prime example of a small-scale "self-irrigator" with a history many millenniums long. (The oldest depiction of such gardens was engraved on a Sumerian tablet dating from 3000 B.C., showing a fruit tree encircled by a wall). It enables plants to be grown and watered in deserts and dry Mediterranean environments.
A cylindrical, roofless drywall construction with an entrance door, containing just a few citrus trees and usually only one: this is the basic structure of a Pantellerian garden. These structures protect the tree from wind and, during the brief rainy season, collect water in the soil, in summer reducing evaporation and the amount of water the plant transpires. Utilizing the stone's porosity and the big differences between day and night temperatures to collect water right from the air in the form of dew, plus stone and beaten-earth ditches to channel rainwater, the Pantellerian garden meets the plant's water needs even without irrigation. Still today the island of Pantelleria has many of these gardens, minimalist yet complete, but little known despite their singularity and beauty.
On Pantelleria only about a hundred gardens still survive and half of them are empty, while a quarter need restoration. Only 25% are still active but if they are not protected they are condemned to ruination.
Donnafugata's Pantellerian garden is of the type most common on the island: its circular layout, diameter (35 feet outside, 27 feet inside), height (up to 12.8 feet) and the lava stone used ensure the finest microclimatic conditions and create a self-sufficient system. Inside the garden is an extraordinary, century-old orange tree of the sweet Portugal type, a very old variety full of seeds but also of succulent juice. It has grown so large as to fill the entire area.
Walls of stone protect a plant from dry winds, absorb nighttime moisture and release it into the ground; they permit aeration and support the soil. All this by using materials and particular shapes that are in harmony with the environment, are beautiful and loaded with symbolism.
page created 4th December 2008
With thanks to:
and the Flickr.com photographers "ciccioperi" and "ComplicazioneCoseSemplici"