Hello 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 Llorenš, 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 AugstÝ 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 'VedrÓ 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
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 ecological issue.
For 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.
The full name of this town is Santa EulÓria 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.
If 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.
Do Your Own Research!
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.
Actually, 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 EulÓria, Sant Llorenš
and Sant Mateu.
Well, 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 Jes˙s.
Have a good week!