Ibiza History & Culture

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History in Ibiza

History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

Sant Carles
Passage into Water
Fiesta Day Celebrated 4th November

Saints & Fiestas

Hello history buffs. November has come in with a quiet roar, reminding us that winter cannot be held at bay forever. The temperatures have dropped and a tramuntana has begun to chisel a hard edge on the wind. There's that unmistakable nip in the air that always conjures up images of Sant Carles, the first of the 'winter' fiestas.

Incidentally, the Ibicenco habit of dividing the year into simple blocks of summer and winter most certainly has its roots in old Celtic custom. In their fascinating book, A History of Pagan Europe, Prudence Jones and Nigel Penick explain that:

"In Gaul and Ireland the year was divided basically into two halves: winter and summer. The winter half was the beginning of the year, starting at Samhain (1st November). This was the most important festival of the year, showing the pastoralist, rather than agricultural origin of [their] calendar. Samhain was the end of the grazing season, when flocks and herds were collected together and only the breeding stock set aside from slaughter . . . . The second great festival of the year was Beltane or Cétshamhain (1 May, May Day)."


While this information is not altogether applicable to Ibiza, there are some interesting correlations. The primary similarity is that 1st November has traditionally marked the beginning of matança season in the Pitiuses. (See Kirk's articles for a full account of this ancient ritual). Before this date, the weather was simply not cool enough to insure that the meat would stay fresh. After all the hard work and planning entailed in a matança, pagesos were reluctant to undertake the proceedings until the reliable chilliness of November had set in. Today, with refrigerators to aid in preservation, bringing the slaughter forward by a week or two is not such risky business. But in yesteryear, the sausages made on the day of matança had to carry a family through the long, lean winter. To have this important food source spoilt by warm weather would have meant certain hunger in the months to come.

So, perhaps the standard assumption that Ibicencos divvy up the year according to the touristic seasons stands to be corrected. The tourist season (which does in fact begin in early May and end in late October) is perhaps a convenient modern overlay on an ancient nature-venerating society. I've always maintained that, despite its veneer of Christianity, Ibiza has a pagan heart - what with well-dancing, moon worship, slaughter rituals and a whole host of practices that Kirk will, no doubt regale us with in upcoming articles.

Hard Luck

But, we're digressing here. Our subject today is Sant Carles, a village that represents much more than island's passage into winter. From the 13th to the 18th century, Sant Carles was the central hub of a knight's demesne. This Catalonian knight was called Diego de Perlata and, on the merits of his excellent service to King Jaime the Conqueror, he was awarded a territory that took in present-day Sant Carles, Sant Joan and Cala Sant Vicente. The area was called simply 'Peralta' and fell within the larger quartón del rei, which encompassed the whole Northeast corner of the island and belonged to the Conqueror's son, Jaime II, King of Majorca.

Diego had a horse and was in charge of things like letting out land to farmers and then collecting 10% of the annual yield, much the way any lord would. Being a landlord in those hard luck days, however, was not exactly a going concern. The families that chose to settle in post-Conquest Ibiza were few and far between. Island historian Joan Marí Cardona estimates that during the 13th and 14th centuries only about thirty families lived in the whole of Peralta. The bulk of the population settled around what we today think of as the village of Sant Carles (because there was a well), with farms becoming progressively sparser to the north as the land became steeper, craggier and harder to farm. Probably only two or three brave families lived in Cala Sant Vicente prior to the 17th century.

The lands let by these early pagesos, and the taxes paid on them, were small business matters for one so noble as a knight. They were matters that could easily be done by factors or lieutenants or lawyers. Therefore, to what extent Diego de Peralta actually resided in Ibiza and to what extent he continued seeking adventure through knight errantry on the peninsula remains a matter of conjecture. The fact is that, over the centuries, his demesne was handed down to native Ibicencos and ended up in the hands of the Juan family (Juan being a surname in this case) who collected taxes and laid down the law in Peralta until Abad y Lasierra came along in 1785. The bishop, as we all know, divided the island into small parishes, all under the control of the local government and the Church.

Dissension-Free Parish

Records do not record the sentiments of the diminished Juan family, but they could not have been very pleased with this turn of events, which they probably saw as unlawful appropriation.

One happy note is that all of the people of Sant Carles de Peralta were in agreement on the location of their new church. "It was such a lovely spot, how could they not accept the episcopal decision?" rationalizes Don Joan. "Funnily, no records were kept of the proceedings and we do not know the exact date the church was finished. But we can assume it was some time before the turn of the century, like the rest of the trouble-free churches." Abad y Lasierra chose St. Charles as the patron saint, one of the few patrons who was not a Biblical figure, but rather a 16th century archbishop. What I'd like to know is what the popular reaction was when they found out their fiesta would be in winter!

See you next week when we'll take a look at Santa Gertrudis.

Emily Kaufman