Mallorca once was an island abundantly covered in trees, mostly oak trees, and mainly of the Quercus ilex variety (holm oak) if we are to believe the experts. Homo sapiens soon saw to it that the dense forest thinned out over time. Trees were felled and trunks were used in shipbuilding, construction, heating and cooking. The ancient art of charcoal making in Mallorca was probably introduced by the Moors during the 10th century, or had the Romans already used the technique? Be that as it may, carbonating wood became a speciality here during the late 17th century when coal had not been discovered yet and when petrochemicals were unheard and unthought of for at least another two centuries.
Charcoal making took place where by then, oak trees were in abundance, in the Serra de Tramuntana. Charcoal makers and their families went into the mountains for sporadic periods to produce the treasured source of energy. There, round sitjas (pit bases) were built, wood was gathered, mounds were assembled and tightly covered with packed earth. Once the fire was lit, it would take between five and ten days before the burnt wood had carbonized and turned into charcoal.
On an excursion to the Tramuntana, we can still find remnants of such sitja sites; all one needs to do is keeping one’s eyes open. If you want me to give you a clue, here it comes. Go to the Ses Font Ufanes where you will find a number of such round charcoal pit bases together with a sitjars‘ hut. Or else, you could go to the Club Diario de Mallorca where an exhibition can be seen until November 11th of excellent colour photographs showing Mallorcan sitjas taken by German photographer, Gerd Neysters (opening hours are from 09h00 to 14h00 and from 18h00 to 20h00). Admission is free.
Luckily for us, the profession of the sitger (charcoal maker) is no longer. The Serra de Tramuntana is now protected as a Paraje Natural (Nature Reserve) and UNESCO has recently agreed to declare the mountain range a World Heritage site. Let’s all hope that the combined measures will suffice to protect the still existing oak and other trees.
The photo (top) was borrowed from the Internet, courtesy of diariodemallorca.es and the photographer, Gerd Neysters. The photo (bottom) was borrowed from the Internet, courtesy of wikipedia.org. The video was borrowed from the Internet, courtesy of YouTube and orestesperez.
thank you and