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The Citrus Gardens of Pantelleria

Located halfway between Sicily and Tunisia’s coastline, lies a small speck of an island called Pantelleria.

Pantelleria has a typical Mediterranean climate with dry and hot summers and mild winters, with very little rainfall, that makes agriculture difficult. Yet, Pantelleria’s inhabitants are mostly farmers and not fishermen, thanks to the resourceful islanders who have developed a unique method for cultivating crops they desire—capers, oranges and Zibibbo, a grape from which a sweet wine is produced.

giardino pantesco

A walled citrus garden in Pantelleria. Photo credit: AnimaMediterranea

Vineyards in Pantelleria are grown using a technique first developed by the Phoenicians, who arrived on the island more than 2,500 years ago. Farmers first plant the vines in a shallow, bowl-shaped depression in the soil called a conche, which shelters the plant from Pantelleria’s brutal wind while also collecting precious moisture. The main stem of the vine is then carefully pruned so that it grows into a bush that extends radially instead of vertically. The hollow is constantly reshaped to ensure the plant is growing in the right condition. Finally, the wine grapes are harvested by hand at the end of July in a ritual ceremony. A similar technique of growing grapes in hollows is also seen in the windswept volcanic island of Lanzarote, in the Atlantic Ocean.

Pantelleria’s inhabitants also grow oranges, but because these plants grow taller than vines, a mere pit on the ground isn’t deep enough to protect the trees from strong winds. Instead they erect a high dry stone wall encircling each tree individually creating a small walled garden, called jardinu, with its own microclimate inside that’s cooler and more wet than the surroundings. Beyond sheltering the trees from the wind, the stone walls trap humidity and help condense the nightly marine fog into droplets of water that trickle down into the soil and keeps it moist. This practice allows farmers to grow citrus fruits without artificial irrigation—a mandatory in the Mediterranean climate.

The majority of Pantelleria’s citrus gardens (giardino pantesco) are circular, but gardens of other shapes are also found, such as rectangular or pentagonal. About five hundred such structures exist all over the island.

giardino pantesco

Photo credit: AnimaMediterranea

giardino pantesco

Photo credit: fab/Wikimedia

giardino pantesco

Photo credit: AnimaMediterranea

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