Welcome to the history page. This week we
have a mixed bag, for there are two events that merit our
attention. Both events are historical in some respects, but
also quite contemporary in others.
The first engagement on our agenda is the
fiesta at Puig den Vals, a suburb of Ibiza Town. There is
no fixed date for this celebration as the area was not named
after a saint and therefore lacks the guiding reference of
the ecclesiastic calendar. Left to their own devices, local
residents quite reasonably decided to hold the festivities
on the second Sunday of May, which means that, this year,
the holiday falls on 13th May.
A Knight's Demesne
As the newest parish in the Pitiuses, dating
back only to the recent year 1976, Puig den Vals has been
almost entirely exempt from mention in historical writings.
What we do know is that, at some point in the 16th century,
the Spanish King granted a small hill and surrounding flatlands
to a knight by the name of Joanot Vals, of either Majorcan
or Catalonian descent. Hence the denomination: Puig (hill)
den (of) Vals (surname).
As we have seen in previous instalments,
ecclesiastic units initially defined political units in Ibiza.
That is, first a parish or a vicariate was established to
serve a determined area, and ex post facto, the corresponding
political mechanisms were set in motion. It can safely be
said that churches are the only reason towns sprang up at
all, for demographic patterns tended toward dispersion rather
Puig den Vals is a clear exception to this
antiquated system of 'townshipping'. First it became an important
residential and industrial nucleus and, posteriorly, a church
was built and a school district formed to serve its inhabitants.
In this sense, it is the only 'modern' town on the island.
In the 1930s, the well to do families of
Ibiza Town began to build holiday homes in Puig den Vals for
their weekend leisure. Today, of course, it seems rather funny
to 'get away from it all' a mere three miles from home. But,
we have to take into account that, at that time in Ibiza,
motorized transport was still in its Iron Age. And I don't
suppose the roads were too reliable, either.
Several decades later, with the advent of
tourism and the subsequent expansion of the work force, Puig
den Vals began changing form a Sunday getaway into a permanent,
bustling community in its own right.
First a School, Then a Church
In the 1960s, a sudden boom in prosperity
prompted the building of a small school, though residents
still had to travel to either Jesús or Ibiza Town to
attend mass, get married, baptise their newborn, etc.
Finally, in 1976, the exigencies of an ever-growing
population brought about the creation of a new parish, the
first and only one to be divided between two municipalities,
Ibiza Town and Santa Eulària.
Now we know a little bit more about one
of the island's little known towns. For our second engagement,
kindly . . .
Turn Your Clocks Back 1,000 Years!
This weekend, the Town Hall of Eivissa is
staging a three-day historical recreation in the ancient walled
city, locally known as 'Dalt Vila' (literally 'the High Town'
in Catalan). The event has been dubbed 'Eivissa Medieval'
and is a popular/commercial celebration in honour of the fact
that, in December 1999, Dalt Vila was declared a World Heritage
The overwhelming success of last year's
event, which was attended by over 50,000 residents and tourists,
has prompted island authorities to institute the happening
on a yearly basis. The affair seems to have found its niche
in the balmy month of May, the perfect time of year to enjoy
the cultural pleasures of sightseeing.
For the whole of the weekend, no vehicles
are allowed to circulate within the walled citadel so as not
to mar the truly medieval atmosphere of its winding, cobblestone
streets. If last year's event is anything to judge from, the
effect is pure magic. The midways are lined with stalls selling
wares of every kind: antiques and handcrafted objects, ethnic
foods and drinks, medicinal and culinary herbs. All the while,
jugglers, snake-charmers, fakirs, players and troubadours
will be adding spice to the plazas with their amusing performances,
both prepared and ad-lib.
Another interesting feature of the fair
is that artisans from the most typical medieval guilds put
on demonstrations of how their craft was practised in the
days of yore. Glass, tin, iron, wood and clay are some of
the materials that are worked as small groups gather to watch.
Naturally, Dalt Vila, provides the perfect
backdrop to this bustling casbah, where the commonplace seems
to enter the realm of the extraordinary. In keeping with the
historical ambience, all participating vendors and performers
dress in the apparel of the day. Even visitors are afforded
the opportunity to keep to ancient custom by paying for their
purchases with maravedis, the smallest denomination of coinage
(and hence the commonest) used throughout Spain in the Middle
Ages. The maravedis available for commerce at the 'Eivissa
Medieval' market have been minted especially for the occasion
and are worth 100 pesetas.
The list of UNESCO World Heritage sites
continues to grow and there are now over 600 sites in more
than 100 countries throughout the world. The idea behind the
qualification is that these sites, by merit of "their
outstanding universal value", should be preserved for
future generations. However, it is up to the local government
of each site to allocate funds to this end. The denomination
'World Heritage' is a status, not an endowment. As a matter
of interest, other World Heritage sites include Machu Pichu
in Peru, the Alhambra in Granada and the pyramids in Egypt,
to name but three.
Ibiza holds the unusual distinction of being
a 'mixed' site, that is, different parts of the island have
been awarded the status for different reasons. Interestingly,
natural assets are also eligible for the classification and
it was on this score that the extensive underwater prairies
of sea grass (Posidonia Oceania) growing off the island's
southern shore were selected for the honour. The other four
sites in Ibiza are: 1) the Puig des Molins necropolis, the
largest surviving Punic necropolis outside of Carthage; 2)
Sa Caleta, the first Phoenician settlement in Ibiza, circa
650 BC; 3) the city walls, rebuilt in the 16th century over
successive layers of earlier bastions; and 4) Dalt Vila, the
fortified acropolis, an urban maze of Phoenician, Punic, Moorish
and Catalan culture.
If you happen to be on the island, I strongly
recommend a visit to Dalt Vila to see the fair. Unless you
pay a visit to the archaeology museum at the very top, you
may not actually learn anything concrete about history, but
it is the closest we can get to experiencing what life must
have been like 'back then'. Despite the event's highly commercial
slant, it is brought off with excellent taste, and the chaos
is amazingly well organised. Hollywood couldn't have done
it better! See you next week for a closer look at the necropolis.