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 to glamorous.
The noble 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."
Historically, 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.
Of course, 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.
While touring 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).
So often 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.
Each and 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.
Santa Gertrudis, 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.
But there 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
But, of 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.
week we will explore the mysteries of ball pagès, Ibicenco folk dancing.
Don't miss it, here at LiveIbiza.