Tre Piscine Cala del Cuore

A heart-shaped red sign as a declaration of commitment to a seascape of incredible beauty at the foot of Capo Zafferano, a protected area near Palermo.
Tre Piscine Cala del cuore, Cove of the heart by the sea, Bagheria, Palermo, Sicily

Year: 2017

Type: Design, Landart

Location: Bagheria, Palermo, Italy

Status: Ongoing

Le Tre Piscine, the three pools, is one of the most beautiful coves in Bagheria and Santa Flavia. It forms a rocky coastline bathed in emerald green water the inhabitants love to visit for refreshing swims, snorkelling and sunbathing.

Unfortunately, like many coastal areas in Sicily, this place suffers from problems of abandonment, neglect, lack of services and accessibility. The intervention comprises the installation of a red heart on a pole among the rocks, it is immediately visible from the street and the coast. In my intent, the heart signals a garrison: the invitation to commitment and respect towards nature.

Capo Zafferano from Mongerbino
The Aeolian dunes of Tre Piscine Cala del Cuore
Above: Capo Zafferano, photo Maurizio Durante; Below: The Aeolian dunes, photo Giuseppe Gallo

The coastal areas of Capo Zafferano and Mongerbino

Capo Zafferano is a promontory 226 metres high overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, on the border between the territories of Santa Flavia and Bagheria, a few kilometres from Palermo. It owes its name to the amber-yellow colour that illuminates it at sunset. Grand tour travellers named it “The Napoleon’s hat” because of the characteristic shape spotted when arriving in Palermo by ship.

The promontory is a treasure of biodiversity, European Union has declared it SIC, a Site of Community Interest, both in the marine part and on the mainland. On the north-eastern side of Capo Zafferano there is one of the most impressive lighthouses in Sicily. Even though its architecture has fallen into disrepair, the lighthouse is active. It is possible to reach it on foot through a road overlooking the sea: one of the few not built areas on Palermo’s coast. The lighthouse is also famous for bird watching, and at certain times of the year, you can also watch dolphins coming close to the coast.

Tre Piscine, Cala del Cuore is on the eastern side of Capo Zafferano, on the edge of the 3-kilometre-long coastal strip extending to Mongerbino toward Aspra. The coast of Mongerbino is rocky and interspersed with various coves, sea caves and natural arches, such as l’Arco Azzurro, the blue arch.

Some of the area’s fruition problems

This stretch of coastline, practically untouched until 1940, has undergone illegal construction, and access to the sea is now limited to a few points. Via Perez, the only road crossing this valley, is not accessible to wheelchair users. There are no sidewalks and no adequate signage. Many Bagheria, Santa Flavia and Palermo citizens love this area and come here for a swim in summer or a walk in green surroundings during the winter. Other people appreciate it less, so it is common to find trash around: mattresses, asbestos tanks and refrigerators left in marginal areas and abandoned even for years.

Similarly, if on the one hand, the accesses to the sea are much less than initially planned and never maintained for the last 30 years. On the other hand, the municipality of Bagheria has demolished some of the illegal buildings in the area, several associations and citizens have adopted these places and try to act a positive change on them.

Tre Piscine Cala del Cuore, Capo Zafferano, Sicily

Tre Piscine, the cove of the heart in Bagheria, near Palermo in Sicily

The popular name Tre piscine, three pools, attributed to the place officially called Cala dell’Osta, comes from its three little coves that resemble swimming pools for the calmness and colour of their waters. Some say the name comes from small salt lakes that form among the rocks in winter.

Whatever the origin of the name, the cove is one of the most popular among residents and visitors: people use it as a beach and for sunbathing. Here, the rocky seabed is relatively shallow for the first few metres and gradually reaches about ten metres, making it a perfect place for snorkelling and diving. The lower terrestrial area comprises rocks with concrete platforms and paths leading up a cliff of about 15 metres.

The cliff protects the cove from the wind on three sides, leaving it open only to the northwest. Between the cove and the street, there is a large area of wind dunes: a wild Mediterranean landscape populated by plants blooming all year round, turning it red in summer and yellow in winter.

The least of the problems in this area is signage. There is nothing to signal the entrance, no information about paths, safety or rules. Despite the slight inclines that would allow people with wheelchairs to at least navigate the dune area in complete safety, the path is full of steps, mud and even small walls to climb over. Also, the reinforced concrete path on the cliff is very deteriorated, concrete has shrunk, making it dangerous to walk in some areas. The same decline applies to the platforms by the sea, which are regularly soiled by those who forget to take their rubbish away with them.

Tre Piscine Cala del Cuore, Land Art in Sicily by Giuseppe Gallo
The heart-shaped sign from the southern platforms.

The “Tre Piscine Cala del Cuore” project

On the line marked by the broken windows theory, the project aims to communicate a garrison, a positive value of presence and commitment, represented by one of the most popular symbols of global popular culture. I installed the red heart on an existing pole orphan of its sign. It is in the far northeast of the cove, facing south and therefore visible from the platforms by the sea, from the dunes and the road.

Because of its location, the nature of the cove, and the climatic conditions, the heart sign is sheltered from winds and waves, except to the northwest. From this direction, waves several meters high can hit the sign during winter. This reason why I attached the installation to a hinge that allows it to move and dissipate energy. The intervention is completely restorable.

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How to reach Capo Zafferano and Tre Piscine Cala del Cuore from Palermo

If you are in Sicily, perhaps in Palermo, and want to reach Capo Zafferano, Tre Piscine Cala del Cuore - Cove of the Heart (Google Maps Location)  or Mongerbino, you only need to move 16 km. The easiest way to get there by car is to take the A19 motorway, Palermo-Catania, or the state road 113.

Alternatively, you can take one of the trains connecting Palermo with the stations of Bagheria and Santa Flavia. Near the train stations, you will find the AST (Sicilian Transport Company) bus stop. Buses 4711 and 4712 make the journey about once every 3 hours.

If you like walking, Capo Zafferano is about 3.7 km from Santa Flavia station and Mongerbino is 3.5 km from Bagheria station.

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