Antiche Grotte del Caricatore


Useful Information

Location: Piazza Dogana, 12, 92019 Sciacca AG.
(37.50505, 13.08204)
Open: Only after appointment.
[2024]
Fee: Adults EUR 2.50.
[2024]
Classification: SubterraneaCellar
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension:
Guided tours: guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography:
Address: Antiche Grotte del Caricatore, Lungomare Cristoforo Colombo, 92019 Sciacca AG, Cell: +39-348-470-9536. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1335-36 construction of the mura Federiciane (Federiciane walls).
11th to 14th century cellar warehouses constructed.
21-JUN-1819 warehouses abandoned all over Sicily by decree and replaced by mills as a place for collecting wheat.

Description

Antiche Grotte del Caricatore or simply Grotte Del Caricatore (Warehouse Caves) are huge cellars which were built as granaries. They are also named Fosse Granarie del Caricatore (Granary Pit Warehouses). To explain this, we have to tell some more about the city Sciacca and its harbour. Today it is a small harbour city with the second-largest fleet of fishing boats of Sicily. About 180 fishing boats land more than 4,000 Tons of bluefish per year, which makes it the biggest producer of bluefish. The used fishing techniques are the “strascico”, the “sottocosta” and “palangaro”.

But once it was one of the main Sicilian wheat ports due to its considerable capacity for placing wheat on the market. In the early 15th century it was the third-biggest grain harbour after Licata and Agrigento. There was an area close to the harbour which was a dry slope of limestone. It was possible to build cellars horizontally into the limestone, which were cool and humid, but not wet. As a result, they were suitable to store wheat grains over a longer time. A little humidity is okay, otherwise the grains get dry and lose weight, and as they are paid by weight, that's pretty bad for the merchant. However, if the cellars were too humid, the wheat would start to mould.

As the cellars were driven into the hills, the access was horizontal, and it was possible to drive in with wooden carts. When wheat was sold, the cart drove into the cellar, the purchased wheat was shoveled into the cart, which then brought it to the ship. But the second important thing was how the grains came into the cellars. The carts came from the farms inland, down the hill on roads, until they were on top of the cellar. The cellars were bell shaped with an opening to the surface at the highest point of the cupola. It was therefore possible to simply tip the wagon and let the wheat fall into the cellar, where it formed a huge pile. Cone-shaped nets hung in the opening, spreading the grain over a large area like a shower head. The openings were covered by roofs, to avoid rainwater falling in, so they generally opened sideways. Today most of them are gated with iron bars to avoid accidents by people or children falling in.

The name Caricatore is used widely in the city, there is a road of that name and numerous bed & breakfasts. It translates "loader" or "charger", but that's a euphemism. Caricatore is the local name for a warehouse or store, where goods are stored to be loaded directly on ships. The economic importance of the goods, but especially the grains, was very high, the wheat was called oro biondo (blonde gold).

Many of those cellars are interconnected with passages which are called cannoli, so there is actually a vast underground labyrinth. It extends about 400 m and was big enough for 40,000 units of wheat. The reason is probably that they were owned by the King or the local Baron, were commanded by a master portulan and without his authorization it was not possible to extract the stored grain. The cellars had staff and offices for the management staff. The vice-portulani were usually members of the urban patriciate. They were the ones who directed the trade of individual shippers, managing their affairs and made handsome profits. In Sciacca this position was held by the families Monteliana, Peralta and Perollo.

There are still hundreds of those underground warehouses, and as they are not needed any more, they are mostly abandoned. Small sections are probably used by their owners as cellars. But one of the cellars which opens at the level of the harbour road on Piazza Dogana was lately cleared and renovated. It is now a mixture of museum, underground site with guided tours, souvenir shop, and event location. There are many events which are published on facebook. There is an annual jazz music festival, other music events, exhibitions on local ceramics, and spice tastings. The dei5sensi museum, which is actually a set of guided tours around the town, not a building, offers tours, which can be booked on their website. This type of event-based museum seems to be a new development in Italy and is called museo diffuso. They state: "We are a "Museo Diffuso," which means that Sciacca itself is our open-air museum." However, while it is open on many weekends in July and August, there are no regular open hours, but it is open for groups after appointment.