to the history page. Last week we entered the portals of summer via the ancient
rites of San Juan. Having passed into this blithe domain does not, however, mean
that we are going to desist in our studies. Quite to the contrary, summer will
provide us with abundant material for historical inquiry. Throughout the ages,
it has always marked a high tide of important island events.
we think our new-fangled selves unique, the 'peak season' is by no means a phenomenon
peculiar to the tourist industry or to clubbing culture or to sun seekers. Because
of the calmness of the Summer Sea, this season unfailingly signalled a time of
intense activity, for, until the advent of air travel, the only means of accessing
the island was by boat.
Summer, for example, was frequently
punctuated by naval conquest. To site but two of the island's more outstanding
battles, in the summer of 1114 Ibiza became the first objective of the Pisan-Catalan
campaign, one of the lesser Crusades. The siege was launched on the Day of San
Juan (June 24th) and ended on the Day of San Lorenzo (August 10th). A second military
milestone, the Catalan Conquest, also took place at the height of summer on August
Moreover, summer was a heyday for pirates. The
high seas were as smooth as silk and a humid haze often blurred the approach of
ships. The archives are full of such 'summer assaults'. Summer was also the season
in which Ibiza was hit by the worst bout of bubonic plague in its history. That
was in the 'anno horriblis' 1652. And, of course, the landmark visit of the Archbishop
of Tarragona, Manuel de Samaniego also occurred in summer, with the prelate arriving
on 21 August 1726.
In addition to these singular events,
summer was always (and is still), the high season for the harvest of salt. This
timeless industry, though perhaps not as piquant as pirates, plagues and crusades,
is the topic of our ruminations this week. Sorry to disappoint our action-loving
readers, but take heart. As we weave our way through summer, we will touch down
properly on all of the aforementioned leitmotifs. But for now, salt.
Salt is Made
Let us first turn our attention to the
actual process by which salt is obtained from the sea. It should be mentioned
here that Ibiza's salt pans are a naturally occurring feature of the island, present
from prehistoric times, and successively improved upon by a long train of inhabitants
first step in production is to allow a controlled amount of seawater to enter
the pans. The flow of seawater is regulated by two little mill houses, each containing
a wooden wheel with flat spades at the ends of the spokes. One house is situated
at the point of entry (Es Codolar) and the other at the point of exit (Es Cavallet).
The water level has to be exactly right - not too high or the liquid will not
evaporate; but not too low or it will evaporate too quickly leaving little salt
Of equal importance is the degree of salinity.
If it rains, the water will turn sweet and will not crystallize into salt. If
there is a long dry spell the salinity becomes excessive, causing the salt to
turn bitter. Thus the intake and outflow of water must be carefully regulated
by the mill wheels.
From People to People
mechanical knowledge I have just related was probably handed down to the Catalan
settlers by the Moors who were experts at hydraulic technology. Due to the progressive
deterioration of the Moorish Empire, however, by the time of the conquest it is
generally assumed that the saltworks had dwindled to a very low level of production
and/or had fallen into a state of abandonment.
One of the
prime aspirations of the Conquistadors, therefore, was to rebuild the industry.
They knew that salt production would prove to be an excellent means of generating
income as well as providing gainful employment for the local population - just
the ticket for a budding political entity.
For these very reasons, 'Las Salinas'
were considered a collective good and could hardly have been appropriated as private
property - even by the conqueror himself. Hence, despite the fact that the salt
flats fell within one of the quartóns which had been allotted to Montgrí
(see our Ibiza History Culture Archive article Weekly Edition 008 of Saturday 21st
April 2001), they were treated as an isolated district.
a spirit of social altruism, the knight and his consorts donated all proceedings
from the manufacture and sale of salt to the people of Ibiza, that is, to the
university. This term merits some clarification here for it continually crops
up and causes confusion. The expression 'university' was used from the time of
the Conquest in 1235 up to 1714 and actually meant "town hall". Until
recently, there has never been a university in Ibiza, as we understand the word.
back to the point, all salt revenues (save 10% that Montgrí kept back for
himself and his knights) went to the newly formed Town Hall. This funding was
primarily employed in the defence of state, for no political entity can embark
on a course of self-determination without some form of military provision. Due
to the constant threat of pirates, a good part of the salt money was used to buy
arms and to maintain a small corps of fighting men. There were also civil servants
to be paid, stationery to be bought, and all the sundry expenditures that government
agencies entail. Viewed in this light, it can be said that Las Salinas gave Ibiza
the financial wherewithal to maintain at least a minimal level of statehood.
week we will carry on with our study of the salt flats, shifting our focus to
the common man's point of view. See you next week,