Favignana is the largest and most important of the Egadi Islands, three islands off the western coast of Sicily. Favignana has good, frequent ferry connections with the other islands and with Trapani; the proximity of Trapani Airport makes the island remarkably accessible from the rest of Europe. This easy access hasn’t – yet – spoiled the island, which is a fairly low-key destination most visited by Italian holiday-makers. Although there are tourist amenities, the island’s character seems little-altered, and travellers who come here are happy to fit in with the leisurely island way of life. One of the charms of the Egadi Islands is that they have never been populated with villas of the rich, nor frequented by the showy, and no out-of-character attractions have been developed for tourists, so compared with the crowded tourist islands of Capri and Ischia, and the chic atmosphere of some of the Aeolian Islands, Favignana and its Egadi siblings have a refreshing simple authenticity.
Favignana’s shape is often fancifully compared to a butterfly; it is composed of two flat stretches of land on either side of a high rocky spine, topped by a decaying fortress. Ferries arrive at Favignana town, the only substantial settlement on the island. The town is situated on the eastern side of the island, which is connected to the western side by a road-tunnel through the hill which divides the two plains.
The plentiful tuna fish found offshore were first exploited systematically under the Spanish from about the 17th century onwards. Facing severe financial problems from their ongoing wars, the Spanish sold the islands to the Marquis Pallavicino of Genoa in 1637. The Pallavicini substantially developed the economy of the island, prompting the establishment of the modern town of Favignana around the Castello San Giacomo. In 1874, the Pallavicino family sold the Aegadian Islands to Ignazio Florio, the son of a wealthy mainland industrialist, for two million liras. He invested heavily in Favignana and built a major tuna cannery on the island, bringing prosperity to many of the inhabitants. Calcarenite quarries were also opened with stone being exported to Tunisia and Libya.