Tunnel Visions

It may not be a phenomenon specific only to Mallorca, but there are a large number of underground passages and tunnels burrowed into the island’s underbelly. Think of the Roman aqueducts, part over- and part underground, or the Quanats and wells of Moorish origin. Think of the coal mines and the underground Marès quarries. Think of tunnels and shelters built by resistant citizens during the Guerra Civil, the Spanish Civil War. Think of tunnels and caves burrowed by prisoners of war during the Guerra de la Independencia Española (also known as the Peninsular War) below the Castell de Bellver or simply think of fresh water channels and waste-water tunnels built 200 years ago, before the start of the industrial revolution. The Military burrowed extensive tunnel systems into the coastal defense set-ups during the Forties. In Palma, there were extensive underground tunnels for trains of goods and chattels. Nowadays, you have a vast hydraulic waste collection system crisscrossing Palma’s underbelly. I suppose I could go on and on.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to descend into part of the intricate water tunnel system beneath the town of Felanitx. There are two distinct channel systems in Felanitx, both dating from 1830 or thereabouts. One is a grid of water tunnels starting from the Font de Santa Margalida (well) opposite the parish church and reaching to well below the Plaça d’Espanya. Until 25 years ago, these shafts could be accessed and traversed whilst nowadays one can only go as far as the entryway of the tunnelled system. The other grid is a network of tall tunnels for waste water sewage, running the length of both, Passeig d’Ernest Mestre and Carrer de Ses Eres.

I hold an invitation to explore a mile-long tunnel system of Quanats not far from here, in Ses Aigues. I have been there and seen the entry ducts but, as yet have not descended into the tunnel system. If and when I do pluck up the courage and overcome my unease about feeling claustrophobic, I will report back to you.

The photos were taken in Felanitx, Mallorca, Baleares, Spain. The date: January 30th, 2012. The time was 10:08:04 and 10:11:02, respectively.

Tunnel Visions

The Cova des Pas de Vallgornera

The Cova des Pas de Vallgornera on Mallorca’s South cost is about to be declared a Monument Natural. The Govern de les Illes Balears has initiated procedures to give the cave of the Pas de Vallgornera in the Mallorcan municipality of Llucmajor natural heritage status as a Natural Monument under the law of conservation of spaces of environmental significance.

The Cova des Pas de Vallgornera was discovered quite by chance in 1968 when a nearby hotel started excavations to have a septic tank built for its building complex. Since then, it was discovered that the underground cavities were bigger than had been thought originally and year after year, new extensions were discovered. It is thought that the many veins of this subterranean labyrinth extend to more than 55,000 m², but the last word has not been spoken. Efforts are being made to continue to explore the enormous collection of stalactites and stalagmites, lakes and galleries. Over the years, speleologists from all over the world have come to Llucmajor to gain a first-hand impression of the fascinating wonders of the cave of Vallgornera and to help geologists and ecologists to persevere with their studies and explorations.

At the moment, no part of the cave is open for the general public. So, if you are not a geologist, speleologist or a scientist of the underworld, do not even attempt to go near the cavern. Stay away or simply satisfy your curiosity by visiting the Govern de les Illes Balears website or search flickr for more photos.

The photo was borrowed from the Internet, courtesy of flickr and the photographer, Anders Kristofersson. Thank you very much. The map was also borrowed from the Internet, courtesy of covavallgornera.org.

Muchas gracias.

The Cova des Pas de Vallgornera

The Caves of Drac

Mallorca’s famed caves are amongst the number of tourist sites that attract millions of visitors every year, together with the Cathedral and the Cartoixa de Valldemossa. Caves which are geared for visitors are accessible in Porto Cristo, near Artà, in Campanet and in Genova but, the best known caves are the Coves del Drac (or: Cuevas del Drach) just outside of Porto Cristo. The Drac caves are recorded on Cardinal Despuig‘s legendary map of Mallorca of 1784 but, were mentioned in a first written record of the caves as early as 1338. The Coves de Drac also have their place in a 1896 novel by Jules Verne (Clovis Dardentor).

All caves in Mallorca are quite spectacular and often breathtaking if you enjoy the natural beauty of stalagmites and stalactites and the fables of the underworld. It is a pity that the Drac caves are so overly popular because it has led to a commercialisation with sometimes unpleasant overtones and, frankly, I find the admission charge of 11.50 € quite exorbitant. I’ve been there four or five times over the years but, I did not venture back recently only to take a digital photograph of its undeniable splendour. I somehow prefer the caves of Artà, in Cap Vermell close to Capdepera. They are equally impressive with lighting effects that are less cheesy than those in Porto Cristo. The Artà caves are marginally cheaper than the Drac ones with a ticket price of 10.50 € per adult.

There are plenty of other caves in Mallorca of a similar fascination but without touristic exploitation. They are suitable for practising the sport of caving or spelunking, a potentially hazardous activity, attractive as it may be. I do not know enough to advise you and would rather direct you to people who appear to know better, such as rocksportmallorca.com who do a useful section on caving.

The photo (top) was borrowed from the Internet, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and commons.wikimedia.org. The image (bottom) was also borrowed from the Internet, courtesy of Alta Mar and fabian.balearweb.net.

Thank you very much

and

muchas gracias.

The Caves of Drac

A Brief History of Manacor

I dare say that most people are not much interested in the history of Manacor. This pueblo in Mallorca’s South East is probably best known outside of its municipal limits for the caves (Coves del Drach and Coves Del Hams) as well as for its pearls (Majorica and Orquídea). Most people also seem to know that ATP tennis player Rafael Nadal hails from Manacor as well.

Let me tell you that there is much more to know about Manacor. The pueblo received the right to hold the title of a town in 1912. It now is Mallorca’s second biggest town, after Palma, and before Inca and Felanitx. Settlement in the area of Manacor dates back to the time between 2000 and 1200 B. C.

As a town, Manacor goes well back to the times before the Islamic dominance. During Roman times, there were settlements in the area and there was a harbour in Porto Cristo. Early Christian communities were evident with the remains of two basilicas, Son Peretó and Sa Carrotja. Remnants of Alqueries and Rafals were found in and around Manacor giving evidence of activities during the Moorish period. An Arab mosque was in existence in the centre of today’s Manacor, but was destroyed and replaced by a parish church in 1232. The new Església de Santa Maria dels Dolors, sometimes called Nostra Senyora dels Dolors (see photo), was constructed in the same spot around 1890. The church is still not completely built and a proposal to conclude the construction is currently under advanced consideration. Torre R. Rubi, the bell tower of the church has a height of 75 metres and is an emblem of the busy town.

The photo was taken in Manacor, Mallorca, Baleares, Spain. The date: November 24th, 2010. The time was 10:25:37.

A Brief History of Manacor

Emil Racovitza And A Shrimp

emil_racovitza

Driving along Palma’s Passeig Marítim, just after you pass Ca’n Barbarà, you’ll find the statue of an important looking guy on your right. The statue is in honour of Emil G. Racovitza, a scientist of quite some stature from Romania. In case you wondered what this monument is all about, read on.

Emil Racovitza conducted a number of expeditions during his lifetime and held several posts in a number of European scientific institutions, garnering some well-deserved fame as a scientist. He came to Mallorca for only three days in July 1904 during the course of a French oceanographic expedition, but he did leave an impression nevertheless. During his brief visit he was invited to visit the Covas del Drac, near Portocristo. In these caves, Monsieur Racovitza took samples of some of the organisms he found there. The following year he presented the description of a new and hitherto unknown species of a crustacean that he called Typhlocirolana moraguesi in homage to the naturalist Ferran Moragues, the owner of the Drach caves.

The discovery of this small shrimp-like creature turned the scientist’s attention to the study of cave animal life in general. The publication of his work Essai sûr les problèmes bioespéleologiques (1907) laid the foundations for biospeleology (the study of organisms that live in caves) as a separate scientific discipline.

In case you should be interested in seeing a crustacean of the Typhlocirolana moraguesi kind, you could see a photograph on the Internet.

On your next visit to the Cuevas del Drach you will find it somewhat hard to discover an as yet unknown species of whatever. Please don’t be surprised if a monument is not dedicated to you, here or anywhere.

The photo was taken in Palma de Mallorca, Baleares, Spain. The date: June 3rd, 2009. The time was 15:08:45.

Emil Racovitza And A Shrimp

The Caves of Puig de Sa Mola

cave_la_mola

It is said that the area of Felanitx in Mallorca’s South East has been populated for about 4,000 years by now. Historians claim that two pre-Talayotic settlements were established here during the Bronze Age (approximately 2000 B. C.), one below the Castell de Santueri or in near-by caves, and the other in the Puig de sa Mola area and its prevailing caves there. At around 1500 B. C., two more Talayotic settlements were established near Felanitx, one in Son Maiol (near Son Mesquida) and one in Els Closos de Can Gaià (near Portocolom).

The caves of Puig de sa Mola are natural caves (one is shown in my photo), and were occupied by prehistoric people as a refuge and as habitations. At a later stage, additional man-made caves were excavated by them from the soft rocks of sa Mola. In total, there are 16 caves dating from the pre-Talayotic period in this area, amongst them the largest habitable caves of all of Mallorca.

Some of these caves at the Puig de sa Mola were also used to bury the dead. One speaks of the Necropolis de Sa Mola.

The Puig de sa Mola caves were first investigated with an academic approach in 1897 by an extranjero, Émile Cartailhac, a pre-historian from France. Mes compliments, monsieur.

The access to the cave shown above is rather difficult. Rock-climbing abilities would be required in my humble opinion.

The photo was taken near Felanitx, Mallorca, Baleares, Spain. The date: May 14th, 2009. The time was 19:55:26.

The Caves of Puig de Sa Mola

Ramon Llull’s Cave

cova_ramon_llull

The Santuari Mare de Déu de Cura is a monastery located on top of the Randa mountain in the municipality of Algaida. It is considered an eminently Llullian site (Ramon Llull, ca. 1232-1316). Access to the sanctuary grounds is through a large portal. In the middle of its pediment is the coat-of-arms of the Franciscan order and above it, the Llullian crest of a half-moon. Below the coat-of-arms is an inscription reproducing a verse from Ramon Llull’s work Blanquerna: “Amable fill, saluda Nostra Dona, qui és salut e benedicció nostra” (Amiable son, greet Our Lady, who is our health and blessing).

Legend has it that in a humble cave located a few hundred metres to the west of the sanctuary, Ramon Llull spent a short time of retreat and experienced an enlightenment, which caused him to later write the work Ars Magna.

Having visited the site myself, I very much doubt that the cave shown in my photo and inscribed as the Cova de Ramon Llull can possibly be the authentic one. The cave is of a very small size and of a very low height. There does not seem to be enough space for a hermit to live for any length of time, however short and however frugal. I may be wrong, though. Circumstances were probably quite different 777 years ago, especially for hermits.

The photo was taken near Randa, Mallorca, Baleares, Spain. The date: February 12th, 2009. The time was 13:20:57.

Ramon Llull’s Cave