Privatize This!

1stphotoThe freedom-loving people of Castellammare del Golfo took to the sea Sunday morning, September 6, to protest the lack of access to those who want to swim in the sea in Scopello. It’s a bit of a complicated situation, as I understand it, which is why I find it interesting. It goes way back to over 100 years ago, I think, to had the right to the land around the historic tuna fishery (tonnara) and the portion of the beach that is Scopello—the rocky beach (no sand) where you find the famous faraglioni, those majestic rocks jutting out of the water. Based on that ancient situation, someone eight years ago decided they where in a position to profit from it, and they now charge everyone three-and-a-half euros to enter what had been free forever.

For my money, three-and-a-half euros, if it includes a lounge chair and constantly clean restrooms, is a good deal—assuming I want to use a lounge chair or go to a public restroom. But what if I just want to walk down to the rocky slabs and jump in for a swim? Still three-and-a half euros. But what if I just want to walk down and take a picture of the faraglioni? More than three-and-a-half-euros. Much more, a local photagrapher told me. The privateers, the protesters explained to me, are claiming to have a copyright on nature. I have no idea what would happen if someone were caught painting the scenery.

totoThat’s my understanding of the complex situation. It reminds me of the famous Toto  (Italian comedic actor) movie where he gets the idea to charge people who are taking pictures at Rome’s Fountain of Trevi. When a shrewd American businessman sees Toto cashing-in on tourists who want their photos taken, Toto, even shrewder, claims to own the Fountain of Trevi and for a ton of American dollars sells it to the shrewd but clueless American!

In this modern world of a globally-interconnected economy where G8 (or 7?) nations take over waters filled with fish off the coast of Africa and make it illegal for the local Africans to fish there and then get surprised when starving Africans show up on G8 (or 7?) nation shores, I guess the idea of the open seas not being open for everybody really isn’t news. But, still, in Sicily, where tourism is the economic savior, when a family of four who paid only 29-euro per person to fly Ryan Air from northern Europe now gets hit with a 14-euro charge (parking extra) to go swimming at a beach the tourism board highly advertises to attract tourists, it just doesn’t sit well. And for the locals, including Palermo families who come for a Sunday after working all week (if lucky enough to have work) and after paying taxes to the Region of Sicily, for them to be asked to cough up money to go swimming, it just doesn’t sit well—especially for local Sicilians who up to 2007 never paid a penny for this right. And other Sicilian beaches such as the one at Petrosino and the famous Scala dei Turchi are facing similar issues, thus making this an important cultural confrontation.

4thphotoA few weeks ago Coordinamento Mare Libero did a sit-in at the entrance to the area, at the exact point where people pay, which generated ample publicity for the cause. One of the protesters told me, “Only in Italy do you have to protest for what is already the law.” Well, Italy and Kentucky, I thought to myself. But for now what’s important is that this attack by land needed to be followed by an attack by sea!

A brilliant idea because, the sea in this scenario is actually still free, it’s just that the right to dive into it from Scopello has now been privatized. Please understand, it’s not an anti-capitalist protest. No one is saying they can’t charge for the lounge chair usage. There are many privatized lidos on Sicilian beaches, but anybody can walk past them to take a swim. That’s the issue here. The privateers have blocked access to the sea.

S2nd photoo….on a hot, humid, but blessedly partly cloudy morning, boats en masse arrived at the faraglioni as they do every day for a beautiful swim. But there was a difference this time. First off, there were noticeably more boats than normal, and secondly, the boats were waving banners demanding free access to the sea. Boat captains with bullhorns were barking their claims and chanting in unison, “Mare Libero!” (Free the Sea). And the masterpiece of all was the sight of two young Castellammarese rock-climbers scaling the faraglioni to unfurl a huge banner reading “Mare Libero” , that could be clearly read by those on the three-and-a-half-euro a person beach—including the proprietors. Well done!

3rd photoAnd then 50 or more people—including the Mayor— jumped from 20 or more boats to swim to the Scopello shore to take over the beach and chant some more, all wearing tee-shirts reading, “Privatizza Staminchia!” In America we would say “Privatize This!” with the “this” understood, although it may come with a vulgar hand gesture to supplement. But these tee-shirts decided not to leave anything to chance, so I’ll just clue you in that the saying “Privatizza Staminchia” is complete with the meaning of the hand-gesture directly incorporated in the phrase.

Now I know what you’re thinking: a  protest that is made up of a bunch of Sicilians swimming in the Tyrrehenian Sea does not quite carry the same heroic image of Martin Luther King leading his followers over the bridge at Selma. But it is the same level of peaceful protest on an important and, yes, complex issue. But no matter what side you land on, I think the Reverend would have been proud of Sunday’s civil, in fact downright friendly act of civil disobedience. Danilo Dolci, too.

The result of all this only time will tell, but I’m confident the freedom-loving people of Castellammare del Golfo will not give up the fight.


Gary Drake
Gary Drake
Gary Drake is American freelance writer who lives year-round in Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily. Gary has lived in several big American cites and spent time in Milan before settling in Sicily. He is the author of "Silent Bell" "Digital Lives" "Daily News of Sicily" and "Conversation With A Settler". Gary's pastimes include, among many things, Palermo soccer, baseball, Dylan, Sicilian history, philosophy, and discussing the meaning of life with the wise sages that gather at the coffee shops of Castellammare del golfo.

Related Articles


  1. I had a good laugh, as usual! I love your humor! The article is really really well written. Not the vain sarcasm about Sicily and Sicilians but a very objective piece. I should say that Sicily is still very much the land of extremes, within a country (Italy) of Totò’s!! If you see what I mean.
    It is not an easy one. I do agree 100% you should not pay for a swim or..a pic (do you really have to?!?). But I know as well, that some “citizens” especially from Palermo… within few days they will be able to demount the “faraglioni” just so that i.e. they can have stones to keep their tents to the ground. Or just to bring back home as souvenir.. like (scala dei turchi). Not to mention the toilets and the pasta and mellon eaten on the rocks 🙂
    Not an easy one. There should be a way to make everybody happy ..or almost! 🙂

  2. I was there this past May. I wouldn’t begrudge paying at the Tonnaro if there was some alternative beach nearby that I could choose to go to for free. But there wasn’t and that is a problem. As the good people of Castellammare and others succeeded in protecting Lo Zingaro from development I hope that this movement is successful to keep free beaches available to the people. Are thee T shirts available for purchase. I’d love to wear one when I visit again.

  3. A point very well made, Gary.
    It’s true that Italians here are protesting for what the law already gives them, the right to access to the sea. We’ve had a lot of issues with beaches closed off in our area, and people protesting that they want their legal sea access.
    It seems a story that has played out again and again, local councils in Sicily contracting out the running of some kind of local resource to a private operator, with the most disadvantageous contract you could ever conceive of, which binds them in for a phenomenally long time. They keep the associated costs for themselves and hive off the potential profits to the private companies. I wonder if they’ll ever learn?

  4. Well,
    some little clarifications. It is not the council contracting … as a matter of fact, as very accurately reported by Gary, the Mayor was also there protesting. Actually is the other way round. The local council has in first place (few months ago) given back “right” to free access. What happened next, is that TAR (Lazio, Rome, Italy) has actually given back the right to run the place to the the “private company” who was in charge to “preserve” it (again), making, perhaps some profits. So it’s not about Sicilians need to learn (nothing bad with it) but is about Italian laws of Toto’s. As a side note, in Sicily the percentage of private beaches is very low compared to other regions. Try to go to Ostia, Rimini, Viareggio etc and let me know the outcome.
    Moreover, have someone running a “public” service, is NOT always something bad. You wrote that in the museum of Gattuso Bagheria, council could outsource some service …ie someone could open a restaurant and turn that place into a profitable place??!! What about motorways? What is Sicilian motorways were actually run in a “profitable” manner by private entrapreneurs? What is the “Valley of the Temples” will be completely free?? Well, that place (Tonnare Scopello) is a treasure for Sicily (and non..). In two months that was “open” to public, we had vandals already in place…Here the article of Lega Ambiente!!

    Obviously, there is not a rule for all cases. In Mondello, for example, the problem is the other way round and what you wrote Veronica, can actually apply.

    All the best,

  5. Thank u very much. The sea of Scopello and its rocks are a symbol of all Sicily and our fight is a battle for freedom. In our region (that in reality is a continent for all the civilizations in the centuries) the Sicilians are often slaves of a corrupted dark power that join mafia, politicians and ambiguos rich citizens (like massoneria). We want to defend the simple people and tell you that our fight became from little things. We want be free, totally free fron every kind of mafia, because sicilians are a big people, proud and free like our sea!

  6. Below is a video (In Italian) that report the degradation of the Scala dei Turchi… just because is “free” to the use and abuse of 100 of thousands of people.
    This shows that some form of control and management should be in place in those places, both to preserve it and get some income to maintain. For freedom and democracy …. in other country, if you don’t have money you don’t even get an aspirin … even breathing it costs! Come on. A solution should take into account all parties.

    • Giovanni, I didn’t know that was a decision by the national govt rather than the local council in that case, so thanks for the clarification. But do you agree that local councils outsource things and don’t benefit from the contracts they make? Or is it only in Bagheria that we have this problem?
      For example, there are so many private individuals who have legal rights to the Guttuso Museum for crazy reasons (money from reproductions of paintings for example) that the council may never be able to open a café or a gift shop there… yet the council has the obligation to pay for maintenance to the building, to pay for the protection of the paintings with guards and burglar alarms etc and yet has no right to any profits that come from the paintings.
      That’s one example to illustrate the point I was making. All the villas that the council owns are “locked” like this. Villa Cuto which is right in front of you when you come out of the rail station from Palermo could be a wonderful way to welcome tourists, with eating places on the grass outside and a museum inside – instead it is empy because someone in the council signed a contract yers ago to allow a university in another part of Sicily to use it as a museum … but they don’t it is empty, but nobody else can put anything in there as legally, it is their space!
      It’s crazy and I feel so sad and angry at the opportunity for tourism here that is completely lost for these reasons.
      There are similar examples relating to the Aspra Lungomare and the port, which belongs to he Demanio marittimo and so the council cannot do anything there and the opinion of the local people has no official way to express itself.
      You make a good point about the Scala de Turchi.
      I think each case needs to be decided sensibly but it seems the current system isn’t working well and could be better!

  7. Yes, everything that has to do with the sea… is ruled by “Demanio Marittimo”. I’m pretty sure the beach in Scopello follow the rule. Because of the issues between the two parties, the Comune (Council) and the private who run the beach, the problem was “escalated” to the “TAR del LAZIO”, which took the final decision, that is to make that beach “private” again. It’s difficult for me to explain in English but I’m sure Marco can explain to you. That place is a paradise on earth. As an example, part of the shooting of Ocean eleven was there. Many Fashion firms goes there for shooting. So it’s a pity to completely open it to everyone. We all know the story. After few week it will be invaded and on Ferragosto tents and falò all over, leaving tons of garbage and plastic. Please, allowed me to spare 3.5 Eu and spend a day in Paradise rather than a free day in … hell!
    Now, I understand that if you want to pass and access the water for a swim, you should be able to do it. So I guess there should be a sort of trade off. A sort of escape/corridor whatsoever. A solution must be taken.
    As far as council issue and bad management, I completely agree. But again, I would study each case, case by case, understand the problem behind before making any quick assumption and end up with the easy conclusion. I’m not up to date regarding the Museo Gattuso, but I remember that the Mayor, the guy of “5 Stelle” Patrizio Cinque, announced that the museo would be reopened, will be re-furbished?? AND managed with in profitable way?? I’m surprised you are actively involved I must admit. There is a lot of “legacy” in Sicily, we agree. Lot of bad politics. Nothing new under the sun. Lot’s of thing to re-invent. I trust the process has started and only good people will help it. Ciao for now! Very good article and chat!! Soon, hopefully, a new one: stay tuned.. Surprise surprise… 🙂

    • In NY/NJ area, we pay about $15-20/day to use the beach. That’s for parking your car or “town beach permit” for the day. Most beaches are open to all the public. Some beaches are town residents ONLY–so they are not open. Sounds like paying to use such an idyllic place is fine. In Malibu California, there are tons of private beaches–no access. So in USA, charging and limiting access is not uncommon. I do have to ask “What is it with the rifiuti??” Why is everyone so against taking their trash or someone putting a trash can on the beach. Again, in NY-you get a fine for littering at the beach! Do people throw trash on the ground at their homes in Sicily? It seems like a bunch of spoiled children. The Turkish steps and this place are out of a movie. I guess familiarity breeds contempt as they say. Sad.

      • I agree with DeCarmine that Sicily needs to re-educate its populace about littering. It’s not just the beaches. It is more of a problem in some parts and not all parts of Sicily. It took awhile for Americans to reform themselves to littering laws that were put in place when I was young. I think the new generation takes it for granted now.
        I agree that access and use of the beach has to be regulated to protect and preserve it. Perhaps issuing locals free or reduced rates would help. There’s no free lunch and when governments fail to put policies in place to protect and preserve precious environments the people have to take action to protect the resource and their access to them.
        I don’t agree with DeCarmine about Malibu and California beaches. That to my mind is exactly what Sicilians want to avoid, i.e. the rich monopolizing the beachfronts and forcing them back into the hills and caves.

    • Hi Giovanni,
      I didn’t realise the beach in Scopello was such a special one and such a precious and so I agree with you, it is right that it should be protected and that access should be limited in this way. You have completely convinced me!
      I have been offering to help the council here with the Guttuso Museum for ages, I made them a website myself and give tem publicity in the UK press, features in travel guide books (as I have a lot of contacts) I have been to endless meetings offering help (for no money) but they push me away, get a big budget from the EU and then do…. nothing! Literally nothing!
      I am asking myself why, and I am afraid my mind thinks of all kinds of very bad reasons….

Comments are closed.

Stay Connected

Digital nomads? Time off? Retiring? Here your place.. in Sicilyspot_img

Latest Articles