Gold that can’t be bought or sold

There is an old woman on a remote island of the Mediterranean that still weaves an ancient thread of fine linen. It is called byssus and it is perhaps the oldest fabric in the world. Emperors and Kings wore it as a sign of wealth; rich Phoenician, Greek, Egyptian and Roman families had byssus embroidered on their tunics; Popes and rulers had their insignia adorned with this fabric.

The reason is that the byssus, a thin filament extracted from large clams (yes, clams, can you imagine that?) shines like gold when exposed to the sun.


During the past week, I travelled with Andrea to Sant’Antioco, a small island on the south-west coast of Sardinia, to meet the last woman in the world who still extracts the linen and weaves it like her ancestors: Chiara Vigo.


You can find plenty of references of the byssus in the Bible as well as on the Rosetta stone because the history of this fabric goes back to the very beginning of civilization.

Now, Mrs. Vigo – or zia (auntie) as locals call her – endlessly weaves the so-called sea silk, this precious and priceless thread. Priceless because it cannot be bought or sold and it can only be gifted to young pregnant women and newlywed couples.


You’ll read more about this fascinating story on BBC Magazine in the weeks to come.

As usual, the pictures you see around here are Andrea’s who turned out to be a competitive Fil’e Feru drinker, one of the strongest grappa I’ve ever tasted.