Explore the rural Gargano Peninsula – a rocky, forested promontory edged by golden beaches and white cliffs.
A strange contraption like a half-finished ship juts out from the headland, high above sloshing wave. Sunlight sparks on the sea, and seagulls caw overhead. Beyond is a long, pale beach and the town of Vieste, where another finely balanced confusion of wood and wire is just visible.
These are trabucchi, coastal fishing mechanisms that are peculiar to the Gargano coastline (and Abruzzo, in the north), though fishermen use similar structures in India, Africa and China.
Seaside curiosities, the trabucchi add to the area’s otherworldly feel. Many millennia ago, the Gargano was an island, and it still looks different to the rest of the region – a wild lip of land more like Croatia, just across the sea, than Puglia’s largely flat, olive-grove-covered landscape. A slow-paced area even by Pugliese standards, the Gargano’s continued use of trabucchi is indicative of the region’s commitment to the old ways.
Natale Masella, a spry 67, clambers up onto one of the huge antennae and gracefully weaves his way through the wires in a dizzying feat of balance. He is watched by Giovanni Spalatro, president of an association that works to conserve the trabucchi. ‘My father still does this job, too – and he’s 78,’ Giovanni says. The day he stops will be the day he dies.’
Natale signals to Giovanni, and the men work together to crank up the net. As they lift it, the fish flip and flop, shining silver in the sunlight. Children start to learn the difficult skill of working the trabucchi as young as two, in the hope that they will one day inherit the craft. ‘Fathers are proud to pass it on,’ says Giovanni. ‘Ever since I could walk I have been coming here. As a child, it felt like being on a pirate ship.’