Dear Tom Tom, this is not a road

4 June 2008

In Sicily for a holiday in the second half of May, my girlfriend and I decided to go to Pantalica. It sounds as though it ought to be a South American heavy metal act but is an enormous, sprawling necropolis that dates back to the Bronze Age. From about 1300 BC, the inhabitants buried their dead in caves cut into the sides of the gorge cut by the Anapo river. They cut thousands of square holes in the cliffs and dragged the bodies of their relatives up to them, ultimately to be uncovered and shipped off to museums by archaeologists.


You can get to Pantalica from two directions: Ferla to the west and Sortino to the northeast. The roads almost meet, but not quite. However, the Tom Tom satnav shows one stretch of road joining Ferla and Sortino by way of Pantalica. Before we got there, I assumed that there was a road there but it was no more than a dirt track for the section that ran down into the gorge and up the other side, as local maps show a break between the two sections of tarmac. This was on the basis that in all the stories of satnavs going wrong, most of the time the road actually existed. It just wasn't all that useful to regular motor vehicles.

Not so this time. The path down into the gorge pretty much dates back to the Bronze Age. You have steep steps cut into the stone that have been there so long they have, in some cases, been eroded into rock pools. No-one's going be off-roading down in the gorge unless they've given their 4x4 mechanical legs.


For a while, I thought Tom Tom's fake road might follow the path. But, having had the chance to compare it against the satellite images in Google Maps, it seems the connecting bit of road is total fantasy. If it existed, it would be quite a bridge. But there is nothing there other than a deep, tree-filled gorge.



The bright patch in the lower half of the zoomed image is the Ferla-side car park. The road from Sortino runs out of tarmac as it comes in from the right. It turns into a dirt track that kinks up. Then, in real life, it stops: the way down is a narrow path that is almost invisible on the satellite image. You can see the path that snakes up and to the left from the Ferla side. This crosses the river, eventually, towards the top where the gorge bends round. Shown as an overlay on the top image, after a bit of Photoshop work, Tom Tom's road just seems to be a spline that joins the Sortino half from the end of the kink directly to the bit where it dissolves into a sand-covered car park.

From the looks of it, I'd guess a little bit of over-enthusiastic error correction has been going here. I can't help feeling that someone looked at the map data they bought in, saw a break in the road and thought: "That can't be right." So they 'fixed' it.