to the history page. This week we are going to take a peek at one of Ibiza's best
kept secrets: the sleepy northern village of San Llorenç. It's nice to
know that even at the height of summer there are still a few quiet enclaves where
one can find sanctuary. Mass tourism notwithstanding, Sant Llorenç has
remained a blessedly peaceful, slow-paced stretch of farmlands, dotted by rural
homes and the odd flock of sheep. Perhaps because it is one of the three Ibicenco
townships that does not give onto the sea, the area has been virtually ignored
by sun seekers and the business concerns that accompany them. As in the other
inland counties, the locals have kept to their ancestral ways, unperturbed by
the advent of modern society. Happily for the history buff, the pre-conquest settlement
of Balafi and the nearby town centre have been spared the ravages of development.
The clean clusters of whitewashed buildings with their pure, graceful lines remain
as one of the few undisturbed strongholds of traditional Ibicenco architecture.
As one wanders through the village, there is not a modern structure in sight,
nor, often, even another human being.
it hasn't always been peace and tranquillity in Sant Llorenç. During the
16th century, pirates found the spot irresistibly raid-worthy. Documents show
that Balafi had become a favoured spot for settlers because of its fertile, stream-fed
fields and its rich red soil. For centuries pirates had been attacking Ibiza from
its southernmost extremity at Salinas; but when they caught wind of the prosperous
farmsteads in Balafi, it proved worth their while to move their operations northward.
During the frequent raids, the looters
would stock up on edibles - figs, raisins, sacks of grain, etc. (They were far
too busy plundering to cultivate their own foodstuffs.) But what the pirates were
really after were the inhabitants themselves whom they would capture and sell
off as slaves in distant ports. Interestingly, it is said that the traditional
attire of Ibicenco females was developed expressly to protect women from being
taken captive in such raids. The dress (still worn frequently in places like Sant
Llorenç) consists of a voluminous, many-skirted frock that swells out from
just below the bust. This couture gave the impression that the wearer was an expectant
mother. Pirates, you see, would not take pregnant women - not due to any code
of decency - but because these women would invariably die en route and have to
be thrown overboard. The dress, then, acted as a red herring of sorts and has
been kept ever since.
A Look at the Chronicles
we have mentioned in previous articles, during the wild years before the Corsairs
were formed, pirate raids were visited on the island with a habitual frequency
of twice or three times a week. Sometimes these attacks would consist of lone
ships pulling in for a day of sport, while other times the raids would be full-scale
offensives planned to precision. The major attacks were recorded in the annals
of the Town Hall and today provide us with a good idea of the devastation that
must have taken place. The following two chronicles, translated from the original
Catalan, tell of two raids on Balafi. The first, written in 1538, states that,
"On the day of XVIII of July, Friday morning, there arrived from the island
of Formentera 25 ships, galleons and galeasses. And (after having attacked the
walled city) left to set fire to all of Salinas or part of them, which is to say,
bundles of wheat, houses, towers and anything in their path. The next day they
set off toward Sant Eularia and there set fire to all of the 'quartó' and
they reached Balafia and set fire to the towers . . . " A second account
written in 1543 reports that, "On the day of XII October there arrived 20
galleons and 3 galleasses of Moors and they reached the river of Santa Eularia
and there many Turks disembarked and they went to Balafi and Arabí . .
Parish Rights Finally Granted in 1785
these people desperately needed was a church to take refuge in. Unfortunately,
other groups of islanders proved more vociferous in their petitions for parish
rights and, when push came to shove, the Balafians were passed over in favour
of the Labritjans. The whole iniquitous story goes back to the visit of Archbishop
Manuel de Samaniego in 1726. Rightly, the prelate felt that the ideal location
for the new church proposed by the northerners was spot called 'Es Pujol de ses
Magranes' ('the Little Hill of Pomegranates'), situated right in the heart of
Balafi. But the Labritjans (i.e. the folk of San Juan) would not hear of it. They
had a chapel further north that they insisted be enlarged into a proper church.
me for a moment as I drop my objective demeanour, but those people were being
just plain selfish. The Labritjans had their chapel, however small, for mass and
shelter. The Balafians had nothing. The Labritjans were advantageously situated
on top of a high hill ('labritja' means 'hillside'). The Balafians were
utterly vulnerable to attack. But neither justice nor common sense prevailed.
The Labritjans were so determined to build the church at the site of their chapel
that they downed tools and would not work at the Little Hill of Pomegranates.
The deadlock grew so severe that Samaniego finally relented and granted the much
disputed parish rights to the chapel, today a part of the San Juan church. The
Prelate subsequently commented in his memoirs that this case had been one of the
most trying he had ever encountered.
I suppose we have
to let bygones be bygones. In 1785, when Ibiza was finally furnished with its
own bishopric, the first occupant of the post, Manuel Abad y Lasierra saw that
the island was in dire need of churches, not only as points of refuge, but also
as points of civic interaction. He noted, not unkindly but honestly, that Ibicencos
were thoroughly lacking in social skills. To remedy their incivility he proposed
to raise nine more churches that would also serve as town centres. Naturally,
one of the spots he chose was Balafi. The decree of erection is worth reproducing,
in part, as it sheds light on conditions of the day and confirms earlier indications.
After personally touring the island on the back of a mule in 1785, Abad y Lasierra
wrote in Castilian Spanish: "In the interior of the island there is a pleasant
and fertile territory, bathed by streams, called Balafia . . . The graciousness
of the spot as well as the spiritual needs of its inhabitants advocate the erection
of a newly created parish under the patronage of Saint Laurence the Martyr. There
is a population of close to 100 families . . . "
twelve years later, in 1797 the church of Sant Llorenç was inaugurated
with total solemnity, whereupon followed, according to the chronicles of the day,
a multitudinous fiesta at which eleven quarts of wine were drunk. Nowadays, the
Sant Llorenç fiesta tends to be a tame affair, drawing few outsiders and
little notoriety. Perhaps it's just the ticket for history buffs like us! See
you next week with the low-down on Sant Antoni's grand summer jubilee, Sant Bartomeu.