Cala Spalmatoio is located in the most sheltered point of Giannutri, at the center of the gulf created by the peculiar crescent shape of the island (called Golfo degli Spalmatoi). Here the sea extends into a short fjord surrounded by steep limestone walls at the bottom of which, at the base of the modern “tower” of the tourist village, there is a small and picturesque pebbly and sandy beach. At the entrance of the cove, on the north side, stands the main dock of the island, where ferryboats from Porto Santo Stefano dock, unless mooring is prevented by adverse sea conditions (in this case they dock on the opposite side of Giannutri, in Cala Maestra).
The crystal clear waters of Cala Spalmatoio surprise the visitors who just landed: posidonia prairies swirling on the seabed due to the sea currents create an ideal habitat for many species of fish that cross the coast of the island. During the summer months Cala Spalmatoio turns into a tourist harbor for sailboats and inflatables.
On every side of the fjord the limestone boulder is engraved by the wise hands of the Romans who had equipped the cove as a temporary stop for ships in transit in the Tyrrhenian Sea and as shelter for fishing boats. Traces of the Roman marina remain along the sides of the cove: ancient walls, the small boatshed behind the beach (still used to put small boats dry), a mooring bollard and columns scattered on the seabed, in addition to the already mentioned signs of the vertical cutting of the rock at the ancient docks.
More historical information
The cove name comes from the caulking operation, necessary to maintain a good waterproofing of wooden boat hulls: a skilled worker, the caulker, seals the cracks in the hull with hemp fibers beated by using a metallic instrument similar to the chisel; when this operation is completed, the hull is tarred by spreading over it several hands of hot pitch (pitching). This technique is still widespread in traditional sailing. The toponym dates back to 1834, when Giuseppe Giuly in Giornale di Belle Arti mentions the “Cala dello Spalmadore”. Since the island was largely uninhabited for much of its post-ancient history, the place name must refer to the presence of the Roman boatshed at the bottom of the cove, whose original function should be apparent to the rare visitors of the place.
Map of the Roman harbour of Cala Spalmatoio (from L. Cavazzuti, I porti romani dell’isola di Giannutri, in Quilici-Quilici Gigli 1999, p. 129, fig. 24)
Taxi boat on request.
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