Guided visit today to the ex- Florio tonnara in Arenella, Palermo, conducted by the president of the non-profit association, La Palermo Dei Misteri, anthropologist and professor Carlo Di Franco, a man who can make the stones talk.
The tonnara had been there for three centuries when the Florio family ( the Sicilian Rockefellers, originally from southern Italy) bought it. But it had competition from two other tonnaras in Mondello and Vergine Maria which caught almost all the migrating tuna before they made it to Arenella. So then the Florios turned it into a business that produced tannin for tanning leather, first from a local plant, mirto, which died out, then from sumac trees that replaced them. It was big business that brought commerce to a sleepy fishing burg. But then things turned down for the florios, they had to sell off most of their properties, and Vincenzo the grandson of the head of the Florio family turned the former tonnara into his main residence. He lived there with his beautiful wife and entertained royalty, including the empress Alexandria of Russia who liked the house so much she had a copy of it made in Saint Petersburg, one of her "cottages." Florio added four pointy towers and crenellation to the roof line. One of the towers fell to the ground during the 1968 earthquake and was never been replaced.