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 Marí
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 next month.
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
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 male population.
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.
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.
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
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 labour.
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.
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
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 medicine.
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.
The Church at
Picture Copyright © Gary Hardy