history buffs. Our topic this week is Santa Gertrudis, a charming (and now quite
fashionable) village, which marks the exact geographical centre of Ibiza. As
one of the three island townships that does not give onto the sea (a landlocked
condition it shares with Sant Rafel and Sant Llorenç), Santa Gertrudis has been
preserved from the rapid pace of development that has transformed much of the
coastline. Although, it must be said that a recent spurt of construction is
attracting more and more people to the village. Despite these surface changes,
Santa Gertrudis remains much the same as it was in the 19th century:
a quiet agricultural area, gently rolling rather than rugged, peaceful as opposed
traveller, author and draughtsman, Archduke Luis Salvador, recorded these impressions
on his first trip to the village in 1867: "The road carried on changelessly
through stony ground. All the fields were terraced by dry stone walls and you
could see the usual trees, carob, fig and olive. Here and there, a few small
houses punctuated the uniformity with their solitude and calm. All of a sudden,
the Santa Gertrudis church appeared on a swell of land so subtle that it seemed
no higher than the surrounding fields."
Santa Gertrudis has been an important farming area ever since Phoenician times
and possibly before. The earth was fertile and moist, and the gentle contours
of the land allowed for simple wide-spaced terracing (as opposed to the laborious,
deeply cut terraces that characterize hilly areas such as Santa Agnès and Sant
Josep). Like Sant Llorenç, Santa Gertrudis was a farmer's dream.
no one ever called the area Santa Gertrudis until 1785 when Manuel Abad y Lasierra
grouped several of the island's central farming véndes into a parish by the same name. For the sake of curiosity,
these véndes, or rural districts, were: clas Ramons, Parada, la Picassa, Beniformiga,
cals Savions, can Llàtzer, Fruitera (the actual vénda
on which the church stands, ergo the denomination Santa Gertrudis de Fruitera),
part of Santa María, and the Serres farmstead.
Font of Plenty
the island, Abad y Lasierra made a note in his journal of the abundant fresh-water
spring that surged forth in the vénda
of sa Fruitera. The locals referred to this natural source of ground water as
sa Fontassa, meaning 'the great fountain'. Immediately, the bishop recognized
that this location was ideal for the foundation of a village, in that water
is the source of all life and here it was free for the taking. He saw that both
field and house would be well served by sa
Fontassa for what then seemed like perpetuity. Little did the people of
day suspect that worldwide desiccation would eventually take its toll on the
great fountain, which is now dry.
returning to the historical arena, Abad y Lasierra was not mistaken in his calculations:
a lovely country village with a sizeable community sprang up almost immediately
after the church was built. Irrigation canals were build to channel the water
that issued from sa Fontassa far out
into the surrounding countryside. Farming was clearly a going concern if we
are to judge from a census taken at this time (late 18th century)
which records that 100% of the Santa Gertrudis population lived exclusively
off farming. (The sole exception to this was the parish priest).
in his attempts to improve the rural standard of living, Abad y Lasierra expected
- rather ingenuously perhaps - that islanders would behave in one way, only
to find that they reacted much differently, guided by some fierce, archaic code
of conduct that was incomprehensible to the outside world.
every one of the seven churches that Abad y Lasierra created was commissioned
in the hope that it would serve as the foundation for a village that would draw
people together and make them live in civic co-operation. This plan, however,
rarely materialized. Most of the churches remained as isolated icons, monuments
towering over the countryside, but not as hubs of day to day living. The Sant
Miguel church, for example, was built in 1305 but remained village-less until
the mid-17th century. Even today, villages such as Sant Agustí or
Santa Agnés are hardly more than hamlets with a church attached.
on the other hand, boasted 860 inhabitants by the year 1840. Ten years later,
the population had grown to 1020 in habitants and, in 1860; it levelled off
at 956 inhabitants, remaining more or less fixed at this number until the advent
of tourism. One reason for the blossoming of civic cohabitation was, of course,
sa Fontassa. Folk from all around
had to come fetch water at the spring anyway, and when the church became part
of the panorama, many families decided to set up house in the vicinity.
may be another explanation. The people of Santa Gertrudis, have always seemed
to me to be easy-going, co-operative types. I cannot speak for past eras, but
there is reason to believe they have always been one of the more placid pockets
of island population. They lived on fruitful land, easy to farm and endowed
with a constant water supply. This happy combination would, perhaps, have removed
the rough, competitive edge that man often acquires from protracted hardship.
It is known that the people did not oppose the bishop on his choice of a church
site and that they were probably the second group, after Sant Rafel, to finish
their church (1797), a sure sign of civic co-operation. Given this historical
profile, they seem to have been a group that was especially suited to community
course, this theory is mostly conjecture on my part. To prove the matter one
way or another, one would have to test the affability of the villagers by personal
interaction. The patron saint fiesta on 16th November may be just
the ticket. Barring that, one can learn all about Santa Gertrudis’s rich heritage
in Mariano Mayans’ book Santa Gertrudis:
200 Anys (1997), written in commemoration of the village's bicentennial.
Thank you Mariano for your valuable help with this article.
we will explore the mysteries of ball pagès, Ibicenco folk dancing. Don't miss
it, here at LiveIbiza.