Introduction Sicily is not just about the sea and its coastline or its famous monuments, but the way its landscape has been strongly affected by geology too. The Sicilian sulphur district has a history reaching back two centuries, and remains permanently impressed into the landscape and collective memory. Thanks to its vast sulphur basins, Sicily held the global monopoly over the “burning stone” for approximately two and a half centuries. In the first half of the eighteenth century, sulphur mines were opened in four Sicilian provinces: Caltanissetta, Agrigento, Palermo and Enna. The patenting, in 1791, of the Leblanc method for combining sodium carbonate with sulphuric acid, used to produce fabric whiteners, marked the powerful entrance of Sicilian sulphur into international circuits. In the century that followed there was an increase in the consumption of Sicilian sulphur, which went, above all, to the English and French chemical and military industries. The extraction process and harsh working conditions of the miners have made the setting of the sulphur mines into one of the most popular topics for Sicilian poets, writers, novelists, singers and storytellers.
The Floristella mining park is the key to this tradition of storytelling linked to Sicilian sulphur, and is part of the European Geoparks Network, a special group of areas recognised at international and national level for the way they implement dedicated policies for protecting and promoting geodiversity and geological heritage. The “GEOPARKS” project was launched by UNESCO in 1998, but it wasn’t until 2000 that the first Geoparks were opened in Europe. The Ceres’ Rock Geopark, which was the first to be set up in Italy along with the Madonia Geopark, also in Sicily, was admitted as a member of the European Geoparks Network back in 2001.
GYPSUM Imagine what Sicily used to be like, when it lay at the centre of the Mediterranean 7 million years ago: throughout the Mediterranean basin the climate was terribly hot; as a result of this and prolonged periods of drought, sea levels dropped and the ridge of Gibraltar rose up out of the sea. In the closed sea basins, cut off from fresh water sources, gypsum deposits started to form, a calcium sulphate that requires such environmental conditions to form. As in artificial saltpans, the heat and the wind cause the water to evaporate, leaving salt behind in the bottom and forming evaporite rocks. Together with the gypsum, sulphur is also formed, aided by the presence of organic material and bacteria. The closing of the Mediterranean brought Sicily fortune for at least 3 centuries.
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