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Jakob Ehrensvärd | profile | all galleries >> Galleries >> Sicily tree view | thumbnails | slideshow


If I've not realized that my interests are not exactly mainstream before, if becomes even more apparent when you tell colleagues and friends that - "I'm going to Sicily for some recreation". The immediate response is that "Nice - you're going to go to the beaches, enjoy the weather and the food... ?" Well, the bottom line here is way too obvious, and just the fact that the trip occurred in February makes the outcome quite predictable, at least for the people who know me...

Sicily is very interesting from an historical- and industrial viewpoint (and quite a few more, for sure), where you suddenly realize that industrial history is not necessary limited to the scope of what is today known as the "Industrial Revolution" and associated developments with their roots in England or central Europe of the late 1700s. Elemental sulfur will be my main aspect from now on and this as such signals that the history goes back to the ancient times of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, long before the time what today is known as chemistry. Without making this too much into an ambitious history lesson, sulfur really has some remarkable properties that made it widely sought after as early as 2000 BC. The later discovery of the classic black gunpowder, where sulfur is a key ingredient, certainly made the strategic importance of this commodity even more obvious. Sulfur also proved to be an effective fungicide in the agricultural sector and he late 1800s boom in steel-, cellulose- and rubber manufacturing boosted demand to an entirely new level.

Sicily has a very long tradition of elemental sulfur mining and was as the single source of supply the totally dominant player in the world for a long period of time. During the 1800s, around 90% of the world demand was met by Sicilian deposits, originating from hundreds of mines of various sizes. This monopolistic supply together with a boom in demand made the customers seek for alternatives, which eventually paid off and quickly re-painted the landscape for the Sicilian sulfur industry in the early 1900s. First, what became known as the Frasch process made underground deposits of elemental sulfur far more accessible than through traditional mining, where USA out of nowhere stepped up as a dominant producer, instantly slashing world prices. Secondly, the booming petroleum industry suddenly started to yield massive amounts sulfur as a by-product in the refineries. Given the extreme growth in the oil industry, changing industrial needs, including recovery of chemicals, alternate ways to create cooking liquor in the paper- and pulp industry, the prospects for the sulfur industry Sicily quickly became very troublesome.

The explosion in agricultural fertilizer usage however created a second boom in Sicily, where huge deposits of water-soluble soil nutrients became a prosperous assets. It seems quite logical that a government-backed effort was made after the war to steer the dying sulfur mining industry into this rapidly growing sector with its obvious potential. It seems to have been done in a "vertically-integrated" way, where mines, post-processing plants, roads and modern villages, all built in a somewhat socialist fashion. However, as the demand grew in this sector, novel and more accessible vast deposits have been found elsewhere, so underground mining of fertilizer today makes less sense from an economical standpoint. Rock minerals are still mined in Sicily, but now in just a handful of highly mechanized mines closer to the shore.

Unemployment and poverty has been a problem in southern Italy for a long time and it is obvious that massive government interventions have been the force keeping these ventures afloat for such a long time. It seems somewhat logical that the acute problems in sulfur industry coincided with the rise of Mussolini in the 1920s, where other massive government programs were launched in Sicily, primarily in the agricultural sector. This structure seems to have persisted un
Countryside mining
gallery: Countryside mining
gallery: Trabonella
gallery: Trabia
An abandoned processing plant
gallery: An abandoned processing plant
Ghost roads
gallery: Ghost roads