La Porta de Xara in Alcúdia

The old town of Alcúdia used to be surrounded by a fortified Mediaeval city wall, built during the 14th century and modified during the 16th century. The Southern and Western remnants of this bulwark are still largely intact; one can climb up and walk along most of its remaining expanse. Two massive gates are part of that wall, Porta de Mallorca, also known also as Porta de Sant Sebastià (the Western gate) and Porta de Xara, also known also as Porta de Moll (the Eastern gate), shown here. The Porta de Xara still preserves its original Mediaeval portcullis, carpentered in wood some 400 years ago (photo below).

The photos were taken in Alcúdia, Mallorca, Baleares, Spain. The date: March 30th, 2012. The time was 13:11:13 and 13:07:22, respectively.

La Porta de Xara in Alcúdia

24 Hours in the Life of an Island

(near Felanitx, at 00:40:23)

Twenty-eight years ago today, I orchestrated an exciting photo event in Los Angeles, California, in collaboration with one Red Saunders. Together, we edited the book that covered that event: 24 Hours in the Life of Los Angeles. All those years ago, we had assembled a team of 145 people, including 103 photographers from all over the world plus 16 local school children, to capture the life in this metropolis in the run-up to the 1984 Olympic Games.

Today, I have the pleasure to invite you to sample a similar adventure, somewhat different but nonetheless exciting, albeit without its results ending up in a glossy coffee-table book. I endeavour the making of a comprehensive portrait of Mallorca, my home for the last 25 years, by taking photographs over a period of 24 hours in the life of this island. This time, there is no team and there are no other photographers involved or invited. I will upload photos every few hours, depending on broadband connection, and today’s post will grow bigger and longer as the day progresses. The first photo was taken this morning at 00h40 on top of Puig de Sant Salvador near Felanitx, and the last one will be captured just before midnight in Plaça d’Espanya in Felanitx. Let’s see how it goes and let’s witness, if I will last the Tour de Force.

(Portocolom, at 01:28:42)

(Porto Cristo, at 02:03:46)

(Son Servera, at 02:52:00)

(near Canyamel, at 03:10:01)

(Cala Rajada, at 03:32:23)

(Cala Rajada, at 03:43:12)

(Felanitx, at 04:39:18)

I made a scheduled return to Felanitx to upload the first photos of this self-set challenge. Quite unscheduled, I fell asleep and had a 45 minutes nap. I was still good on time and schedule, though.

(near Petra, at 07:41:13)

(near Petra, at 08:00:33)

(Santa Margalida, at 09:24:54)

(Muro, at 10:44:09)

(near Muro, at 11:35:52)

At this time, I was still running to schedule, more or less. But it began to dawn on me that the task I had set might be a bigger one than I had calculated. I may have underestimated the challenge and the sheer distance between places, and I may have overestimated my abilities as a one-man-band. I decided that Mallorca was, in fact, a continent.

(near Muro, at 12:11:55)

(Port de Pollença, at 13:59:13)

(Pollença, at 14:18:33)

By now, it was quite evident that I was running late, and well behind schedule. I decided to alter my route plan. Instead of returning south via Crestatx, Sineu and Sant Joan, I decided to go up into the mountains of the Serra de Tramuntana to see if I could catch up on time by eliminating some of the planned stops.

(near Pollença, at 14:58:40)

(near Sa Calobra, at 15:23:18)

(near Sa Calobra, at 15:25:40)

(near Sa Calobra, at 15:32:31)

(near Sa Calobra, at 15:33:02)

(near Fornalutx, at 15:37:35)

(near Fornalutx, at 15:43:27)

It now was clear: there was no way I could complete the whole island portrait, and comprehensive at that, within the self-elected time frame of 24 hours. For a start, there was no way that I could upload any photos during the course of my parcours. There were just too many kilometres to be driven from point to point. Mallorca is too big an island to be ticked off in one single day by one individual. I realized that I would have needed to employ the good services of a driver to allow me to concentrate on the scene selection and the location, instead of me minding the business of getting there in the first place. And it would have been wise to seek the support of an assistant to keep my back free from the logistics of the task. Me, on my own, doing the driving, route planning, rescheduling, time keeping, scene selection, setting up the tripod, shooting, editing, copy writing, Lightroom-ing, WordPress formatting and what have you, was just too much for one elderly man. And I was getting tired, sleepy, red-eyed, exhausted and anxious. I needed a hug, or a helpline, or something.

(near Sóller, at 15:51:15)

(Sóller, at 16:45:14)

(Sóller, at 17:03:36)

(Sóller, at 17:11:26)

In Sóller, I accepted the inevitability of defeat. It simply was impossible to cover all of Mallorca or at least, all 48 locations that I had scheduled, in one day and on my own. I would barely manage half that number and not even half the total distance. By now I had done some 300 kms, and I would surely need to do the same again, or more, with more than two thirds of the time already gone. I would need to be fitter (and younger), less mad, better equipped, better supported and assisted, and more realistic. I should simply have listened to my wife.

(Alfàbia, at 17:46:32)

(Alfàbia, at 17:54:46)

In Alfàbia I decided to go home. I needed to upload some of my photos and take stock. I might go out again after that to cover some of the Mallorcan hinterland, Porreres, Campos, Llucmajor, Sant Joan, Villafranca, Sineu, Llubi, and so on. For now, I certainly would not be able to cover the western parts of the island, Andratx, Estellencs, Banyalbufar, Valldemossa, Deià, Orient, Alaró, Bunyola; I might have to have another go at the region at some later stage. Palma, I was pretty sure that I would skip Palma for now.

(Felanitx, at 23:43:43)

Having aborted the project and not having gone out again once I arrived back home after 20 hours on the road and in the hot sun, I was busy photo editing, photo optimizing and uploading. I now did not need to do that final shot just before midnight that I had scheduled from earlier this morning. But I wanted to do it anyhow to have a pair of bookends, so to speak. As it happens, I met my friend John and he kindly agreed to pose as another mad hatter for mad me. No. This is not me sitting there, just in case you wondered.

Good night, and thank you for joining me on this ride and this very long day indeed. I need some sleep now.

24 Hours in the Life of an Island

The Vandal Period

After the Roman period in Mallorca (123 B. C. until approx. 430 A. C.) the Vandals came (425 until 534). The Vandals were an East Germanic tribe that entered the late Roman Empire during the 5th century, coming to the Iberian Peninsula in 409. Under king Genseric, the Vandals settled in North Africa in 429 and by 439 established a kingdom which included the Roman Africa province, plus the islands of Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearics. Not much else is known, apparently, about their dominion in Mallorca and a reign lasting the better part of 100 years; no architectural relics were found.

Present day vandals roam the streets of this island, setting fire to rubbish containers, cars, kiosks and the occasional beach bar. Often they are kids involved in a dare-you ritual of initiation, or youngsters under the influence of drugs, alcohol or high levels of testosterone, or simply, an angry neighbour on a payback mission.

Some parts of Mallorca sometimes feel a bit like Echo Park. Apart from that and the high unemployment rate in Mallorca, life here is still pretty much idyllic.

The photo was taken in El Molinar, Palma, Mallorca, Baleares, Spain. The date: January 28th, 2012. The time was 14:35:45.

The Vandal Period

Oyster Beds in Mallorca

Yesterday, my friend Lluís asked me quite nonchalantly if I liked oysters. As it happens, I do. Mind you, I did not think that now, July, was the best time to eat oysters. But, I let my friend take me to an inland site, some 25 km from the nearest coastline. There, in the middle of the island, just south of Vilafranca de Bonany he led me to a pre-historic oyster bed, dating back some 10,000,000 years, give or take a few centuries. Due south of Vilafranca there is a raised platform bank where, on close inspection, one can spot dozens, hundreds or even thousands of fossilized shells (see photo), mostly of the Ostreidae oyster variety or an ancient version thereof. An oyster bed is a place, especially on the seabed, where oysters breed and grow naturally or, nowadays, are cultivated. From the evidence of those fossils we can gather that Mallorca’s flat centre used to be below the seabed, many a moon ago. Lluís said so, and I do not doubt his word. He’s a geologist and he studied the subject long enough to know what he is talking about.

Sadly, we did not have oysters for lunch yesterday but still, the Mallorcan oyster bed is quite amazing, don’t you think? Moltes gràcies, Lluís, for showing me this hidden treasure.

The photo was taken near Vilafranca de Bonany, Mallorca, Baleares, Spain. The date: July 16th, 2011. The time was 14:00:32.

Oyster Beds in Mallorca

Mysteries of Talayotic Mallorca

Not very much is known with certainty about Mallorca in prehistoric times. Many mysteries surround the Talayotic period.

According to the book Tuhfat al-Arib fi al-Radd written in 1420 by Mallorcan-born Anselm Turmeda (also known as Abd-Allah at-Tarjuman, 1355 – 1423), there was evidence of some 120 walled settlements on this island. In the same book the author also claimed that every year, 20,000 drums of olive oil were exported from Mallorca to Alexandria and Cairo. Some historians doubt these written records and ask as to where those 120 settlements could have been situated when today, Mallorca only counts 53 Pueblos (villages) and some 35 more Llogarets (hamlets).

Be that as it may, I know that there are a number of remains of Talayotic walls of settlements of the bronze-age period, here on this island. Three of them can be found alone in the Felanitx area. Es Velar de Son Herevet (see photo) is one such remaining fragment. A 180 m long piece of a once oval wall still stands, well covered by shrubs and untamed vegetation, where once 300 settlers may have lived in a colony occupying land of 10 hectares or more. At the beginning of the 20th century, lots of this ancient pueblo still stood, or so Émile Cartailhac, a French archaeologist claimed. Apparently, he took photographs to prove his findings. Sadly, not much is left today, at least not visible. Perhaps future generations will one day start excavating to shed some light on some of the mysteries of Talayotic Mallorca.

Should you be interested in the archaeology of prehistoric times in Mallorca and some of its mysteries, I would draw your attention to a book by historian, Javier Aramburu Zabala, called Enigmas de la arqueología balear (Editions Documenta Balear, 22 €).

The photo was taken near Felanitx, Mallorca, Baleares, Spain. The date: July 8th, 2011. The time was 11:39:26.

Mysteries of Talayotic Mallorca

The International Museum Day

Yesterday, the International Museum Day was celebrated worldwide with some 30,000 museums participating. In Mallorca, there are perhaps seventy museums, half of which joined this initiative organized by ICOM, the International Council of Museums. I took the opportunity to visit the Museu Regional d’Artà. Of all the museums I have ever been to in Mallorca, this one is the most ineptly run one; I do not recommend a visit.

Apparently, the museum was founded in 1928 as the initiative of a group of scholars interested in studying history, archaeology and the cultural heritage of the Artà region. Its funds come mainly from private donations, some archaeological excavations carried out by the Museum as well as a collection of flora and fauna brought together by one of the founders, an apothecary. There are three museum sections, Natural History, Archaeology and Ethnology. Whilst some of the pieces would well merit some attention and deserve some interest, the entire collection is presented totally haphazardly and clumsily. The museum’s treasures are hardly explained, most of the labels are illegible or out of our visual range. Some of the objects do not even have any label explaining the name, date or location of its find. I cannot see any educational value in a museum visit there; there is no apparent professional skill whatsoever and hardly any sense of order. Sorry. Someone is not doing their job in Artà.

The piece shown below (photo bottom) seems to be a Roman funerary panel, supposedly dating between the 3rd and 6th century A. D. and possibly found in the Ses Salines area. This information is not available unless you ask the nice lady in reception; even though she kindly looked up the information amongst handwritten notes in a book of scribbles, I consider the data imparted as pretty dubious.

If you have missed International Museum Day, do not despair. Open days will be held next Saturday, May 21st, at the Castell de Sant Carles in Palma (10h00 to 18h00). At the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró, also in Palma, an Hort Ecològic will be inaugurated with a guided tour being offered at 12h30, also on Saturday.

The photos were taken in Artà, Mallorca, Baleares, Spain. The date: May 18th, 2011. The time was 12:47:27 and 13:08:39, respectively.

The International Museum Day

Jurassic Park

The island of Mallorca, and the Balearic Islands in general, were probably formed some 400 to 300 million years ago. Allow me to quote from the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911 edition (yes, 1911):

The strata which form the Balearic Isles fall naturally into two divisions. There is an older series, ranging from the Devonian to the Cretaceous, which is folded and faulted and forms all the higher hills, and there is a newer series of Tertiary age, which lies nearly horizontal and rests unconformably upon the older beds. The direction of the folds in the older series is in Iviza nearly west to east, in Majorca south-west to north-east, and in Minorca south to north, thus forming an arc convex towards the south-east. The Devonian is visible only in Minorca, the Trias being the oldest system represented in the other islands. The higher part of the Cretaceous is absent, and it appears to have been during this period that the principal folding of the older beds took place. The Eocene beds are nummulitic. There is a lacustrine group which has usually been placed in the Lower Eocene, but the discovery of Anthracotherium magnum in the interbedded lignites proves it to be Oligocene, in part at least. The Miocene included a limestone with Clypeaster. Pliocene beds also occur.

Mallorca’s Serra de Tramuntana was formed during the Triassic period (250 to 200 million years ago), whilst the Jurassic period in Mallorca lasted from about 200 million to 150 million years ago. If you keep your eyes open, you’ll be able to find prehistoric evidence in the form of fossils just about everywhere. Ammonites were abundant, such as the one shown in my photo, possibly one of the Phylloceratidae family, or is it a Polyplectus discoides?

If you want to find out more about ammonites, fossils and other testimonials of the Jurassic period in Mallorca, you could either consult the Internet, have recourse to a competent book or simply visit the Museu Balear de Ciències Naturals in Sóller. The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10h00 to 18h00 and Sundays from 10h00 to 14h00. The last time I went there, admission fees were 5 €.

The photo was taken in Felanitx, Mallorca, Baleares, Spain. The date: April 17th, 2011. The time was 12:32:05. The location was in Carrer Major, laterally adjoining the Església Parroquial de Sant Miquel. The fossil is about 20 x 30 cm in size.

Jurassic Park