Greetings to all! This week we are going to deviate from our scheduled itinerary,
which, if you will remember, called for an interview with island historian,
Joan MarÝ Cardona. Unfortunately, in my eagerness to speak with this distinguished
scholar, an important fiesta slipped my notice, that of Sant Francesc de Paula.
Now I've realised the oversight, I feel it is only fair to tell the story of
this interesting place on the occasion of its patron saint's day, 2nd April.
For his part, Don Joan has kindly agreed to defer his talk with LiveIbiza until
What's in a Place Name?
Many people know Sant Francesc by its Spanish name, San Francisco; however,
as we mentioned in an earlier instalment, under current law, all place names
have been officially changed to their Catalan equivalents. Linguistic technicalities
aside, what can we say about Sant Francesc in the present day? The truth is,
not much. It is so small that it cannot be classed as a village, nor even as
a hamlet. There are no houses, no streets, no square, only a bar and a small
church. Most islanders think of it as "that place" you pass on the way to Salinas
Beach. How, then, did this virtually non-existent .. er.. place... spring into
being? Naturally, our answer can be found in history.
The Salt Pans
Throughout the whole of ancient, medieval and modern history, the area of which
we speak was referred to simply as 'Las Salinas', meaning 'the salt pans'. These
pans were naturally occurring flatlands into which a shallow layer of seawater
would flow and be retained. The brine would slowly evaporate under the strong
sun, leaving behind a crystal residue of salt.
Ever since Phoenician times and up to the present, the saltworks have been
developed and exploited for commercial gain. Each of Ibiza's successive conquerors
reformed and updated the operations so that, during all but the bleakest periods
of her history, they have been the island's 'summum bonum'. Not only did the
salt industry generate the majority of Ibiza's gross income (prior to the advent
of tourism), it also provided seasonal employment for most of its able-bodied
Now that we have established the social and political implications of the salt
industry, let us turn out attention to the common man's experience of it. Probably
the best word to describe this would be gruelling. Hellish, torturous and insufferable
would also do, but lest I sound too over-blown, I'll stick to gruelling.
The task of salt harvesting was undertaken in the searing heat of summer -
July, August and usually part of September. By this time evaporation from the
pans was at its maximum and each bed was lined with crystal residue. Men would
come from all over the island to rake out the salt and transport it, on foot,
to the pier where boats of many countries (especially the northlands, Holland
and Genoa) waited to receive their cargoes.
Long queues of workers would snake down to the shore, carrying the salt on
top of their heads in tightly-woven baskets. When freshly raked, the crystals
retained some of the seawater for the pans, so that, despite protective towelling,
this liquid would seep down into the labourer's eyes, causing burning and irritation.
Red-eyed and squinting, they would bear up under their heavy loads, trudging
along doggedly as the sun hammered down. Remember too that, as a mineral, salt
has the same density as rock. The continuous strain of balancing such weight
could literally break a man's back - or, at the very least, stiffen it for life.
In addition to these hardships, the men did not have the luxury of returning
home at the end of a long day's work. The slowness of travel in the pre-motor
era made it counterproductive for them to leave the site, for which reason most
of the men would stay in local barracks until the season's work was done. This
last element of plot provides us with the key to why a church was built in such
a remote spot and why a town never developed around it.
The salt miner's chapel (i.e. San Francisco de Paula) was built sometime in
the mid-18th century during a general wave of church construction. What makes
this case exceptional is that the whole project was undertaken privately. Unlike
all of the other churches of that time, the builders never requested episcopal
backing for their project. No politics were involved, the prime concern being
only that the workers should not go without spiritual ministration during the
long season of salt harvesting.
Loading the Cargo
Once the salt was harvested, the loading process began. With the passing of
the centuries, the loading area moved from place to place. In the 13th century
it was located in the area of Playa den Bossa known as Sal Rossa. There was
no quay, so the boats would drop anchor at some distance from the shore. Rowboats
filled with salt would then shuttle back and forth, stocking the boats batch
by batch. By this method, it took several days to load just a single boat, and
many rowers were needed. These rowers often turned out to be slaves of exceptional
strength, ironically referred to as 'sacks of bones' by the islanders of yore.
In these cases, the slave's owner would receive the wages for his chattel's
Sal Rossa was protected by a tower to guard against the pirates who always
lurked in the offing. The present-day tower at this site dates back to the 16th
century when it was rebuilt o the ruins of a previous one.
In the 19th century, a loading dock was built as Es Cavallet. While the dock
was a vast improvement over the old system, its placement was unfortunate, and
exposure to whipping winds and high waves soon destroyed it. The dock then was
rebuilt at its current location of 'Sa Cova Llarga' ('The Long Cove'). The place
name itself confirms that this site was better protected against inclemency,
lying safely tucked into the shoreline. Before long, islanders began referring
to the site as La Canal ("the loading channel") because, even from afar, onlookers
could see the stream of salt rushing down the chute into the boats. According
to locals, this stream looked more like a cascade of frothy water than it did
Some Final Thoughts
Salt trade has brought more to Ibiza than just business and a place on the
map. It has also brought health. In the early days of antibiotics, penicillin
was almost impossible to come by on the island; however, freighters putting
in for salt always carried a supply on board. The chronically ill, mostly sufferers
of tuberculosis, would go to La Canal to buy their rations of this necessary
To this day, salt is still harvested at Las Salinas in the traditional way
and can be purchased at any island shop for a fraction of the price of most
'health-food' sea salts. It is also exported in its unrefined state to Northern
Europe, Scandinavia in particular, where it is used to salt icy roads. Closing
Thank you for your rapt attention. It is much appreciated by us here at LiveIbiza.
Next week we will turn our attention to another patron saint's day, the fiesta
of Sant Vicent. Hope you'll join us.
Church at San Francesc