Homer’s Odyssey tells of a place on Earth where the inhabitants ‘plant nothing with their hands nor plough; but all these things spring up for them without sowing or ploughing, wheat, and barley, and vines, which bear the rich clusters of wine, and the rain of Zeus gives them increase’.
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According to Odysseus, this place, the home of the Cyclopes, is in Sicily, on the slopes of Mount Etna.
Europe’s highest active volcano lies in the province of Catania, and, leaving legend aside, the fact remains that at the end of the 19th century the province had the most vines on the island, with about 90,000ha. That’s not much less than the total area under vine across all of Sicily today – back then, a flourishing economy revolved around wine.
In the 1890s, a railway, the Circumetnea, was even built to transport the precious product to the port of Riposto (which, in local dialect, means ‘cellar’) from where it was shipped around Europe.
But phylloxera and post-war agricultural reforms led to the abandonment of the volcano’s vineyards in favour of other crops. All traces of the Cyclopes’ paradise were lost.