history buffs and welcome to September! I would also like to extend a personal
welcome to our new contributor (and old friend) Kirk W Huffman, who for the last
three weeks has been sharing his fascinating anthropological perspective on the
significance of water in traditional Ibicenco society. Today, I would like to
pick up on an interesting point that Kirk has mentioned several times and add
a few historical notes to the subject.
In his discussion of
water, Kirk regularly reminds us that Ibiza has not always been as dry as it is
now, and that, in fact, it was quite lush in years gone by. This comparative lushness
is one of the surprising facts that begins to emerge as one looks through old
documents written about the island. Even when there are no written references,
place names often give important clues as to the former wetness of an area. Without
going into too much detail, let us take a look at some of the indications that
point to a wet and fecund Ibiza that once shimmered like an emerald in the sea.
One eye-opening account is Abad y Lasierra's
description of Sant Llorenç, part of which I reproduced during our discussion
of that village. The bishop noted that, "In the interior of the island there
is a pleasant and fertile territory, bathed by streams, called Balafia."
From these words, one can deduce that the area was fed by several small tributaries
and that its agricultural yield was quite high.
Sant Augstí was also an area of
considerable water flow. During last week's discussion of the village, I failed
to mention that the area's original topomyn was 'Vedrà dels Ribes' which
refers to the many rivulets that ran through the terrain. The largest of these
watercourses was, of course, the mountain stream that flowed down the slopes of
s'Atalaya into the sea. While the torrent is now dry, the place name 'Port des
Torrent' is a reminder the once abundant aqueous affluence.
The village of Santa Gertrudis was founded
in 1785 on a spot known as 'sa Fontassa' (roughly 'the Fountainhead'), a naturally
occurring wellspring that nourished the surrounding farmlands and orchards. The
area was still well endowed with water sources a century later when the Archduke
Luis Salvador rode through the village on his way to Sant Miquel. The nobleman
recorded his passage thusly: "Going over the plain (just outside of Santa
Gertrudis) one had to cross a stream and, a bit further on, a little bridge that
went over another stream, beside which was located the Spring of 'sa Pedra'. This
took us to a place full of brooklets where one could still see signs of damage
from the previous hard rains." This testimony confirms that the island did
not then suffer from the unrelieved drought that today has become such an urgent
this village I have no chronicles to quote from - not because they do not exist,
only because I have not done my homework - but there is ample reason to believe
that this area suffered from an excess of water rather than from its lack. Our
clue is in the original place name, 'Albarca', an Arabic word meaning 'great water
deposit'. Historians feel that this denomination refers not to any particular
structure designed for this purpose, but to the fact that, as a flatland, the
area was habitually flooded during periods of heavy rain.
full name of this town is Santa Eulària des Riu, i.e. 'Santa Eulalia of
the River' owing to the small but constant river that ran through it from antiquity
until the early part of the 20th century. That is was a major waterway (the only
full-fledged river in the Balearic Islands) is borne out by the Roman bridge that
spans the now dry river bed.
we go back to the 333 years of Moorish rule in Ibiza (902-1235), the same picture
of a stream-fed land emerges. One has only to consider the many water mills that
date back to this period to surmise that affluents flowed with enough force to
generate the hydraulic power necessary for the Moors' sophisticated irrigation
systems. Several of these mills dot the now dry stream bed that once flowed from
the village of Sant Miquel down to the sea.
For a really interesting read, I cannot
resist recommending the book Tales of Mel by Rafael Sainz. He relates many aspects
of Ibicenco history, culture and daily life in a thoroughly engaging style. Naturally,
he makes ample mention of the island's wells, springs and streams throughout the
centuries One of his most interesting comments in this respect is that long before
the Phoenicians set up a colony in Ibiza, they used to stop on the island in order
to replenish their fresh water supply. Sainz maintains that not only did Ibiza's
springs flow sweetly and liberally, but that they were conveniently located along
most of the coastline.
the farther back in time we travel the wetter we find the island to be. In his
excellent work, Ibiza, An Undiscovered Paradise, Hans Griffhorn explains that,
during the last Ice Age, torrential rains created sweet water lakes out of the
island's valleys as well as carving the Santa Eulalia River. The now dry lakes
have become the fertile plains of Santa Eulària, Sant Llorenç and
folks, that's all for today. If we went back any further on the timeline, we would
end up in Atlantis! Next week we will carry on with what I had promised for this
week, the fiesta of Jesús.
Have a good week!