The Island of Calm

25/08/2017 19:02

Some will is needed to reach it. There is no airport, so the only access is by sea from Ibiza harbour. Its dimensions have necessarily limited accommodation for visitors, a fact that has slightly moved it away from mass tourism. Formentera is still relatively isolated from the rest of its neighbours and the rest of the world.

Formentera’s gateway is in the Freus, just over three miles of straits that separate, one after another, the two islands. There, winds and rough water have been lavish in sea mishaps. As the ferry moves the straits recall the Erratic Rocks Circe warned Odysseus: On the one hand there are some overhanging rocks against which the seething deep waves of Amphitrite beat with terrific fury; the blessed gods call these rocks the Wanderers. Here not even a bird may pass, no, not even the timid doves that bring ambrosia to Father Zeus, but the sheer rock always carries off one of them.

Freu Petit split the Escull de Terra, Seca de Sa Barqueta and En Caragoler rocks from Ses Illes Negres and Es Penjats isle, this latter name, meaning the hung men, refers to a formerly gibbet to warn the pirates, though a legend attributes seven death row inmates who were abandoned on the island. Lacking executioner one of them was secretly commissioned to do the work in exchange for his life. Two days later, when authorities went to collect the six bodies and the traitor, they found, surprisingly, seven bodies hanging from their pitchforks. The main passage is Es Freu Gros, between the latter and the Illa des Porcs. Despite being the main is barely a mile wide. Next up, the Freu del Far is between this and Sa Torreta and S’Espalmador, once refuge of smuggling and where there are some Punic remains. Finally, before reaching La Savina harbour is Pas de s'Espalmador ending just in Punta des Borronar in the narrow strip of land that forms the north of Formentera Island and where spreads Llevant and Ses Illetes beaches.

Before the current and modern ferries link Ibiza with La Savina some small boats helped to carry passengers and freight. Es Caló port was considered dangerous and difficult so Estany del Peix was used to moor in wintertime. In the late nineteenth century the first one was used to disembark the small boats called llaüts: the St. Augustine, the Virgen del Pilar and Two Brothers. In La Savina harbour moored the Verd, the Young Catherine and Young Pepito. 1907 was the year when the steam was introduced and the steamer Constant was pioneer. The fact was mentioned in the early Tourist Guide by Arturo Perez Cabrero published in 1909 where he wrote: To go to Formentera should make the trip in the steamer Constant, a Tuesday or a Thursday, because on Sundays calls at the headlights and lost all day on the trip... It leaves at 8 and gets between 10 and 11. Writer Josep Pla narrated that before his visit to the island, the cruise was made on a boat which ostentatiously called the felucca, in the words of Catalan writer una bona embarcació per anar a palangre. (A nice boat to sail fishing). The journey wasn’t covered daily and departures put forth on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays. Others followed and the shipping companies’ constitution guaranteed the link between the islands. Particularly remembered are the last two ships before new ferries were introduced. The Vapour Manolito was worthy even of a street name in La Savina, near the port. The Manolito was built in Gijon shipyards in 1925. With just a little bit more than fifty feet long and just over fourteen wide were used for fishing in Andalucia before it was acquired for the link between Ibiza and Formentera. Protected by an awning that supposedly would ease the passage of exposure to the sun's rays began to cover the line in 1950, until March 15, 1960, last day that once left behind Torre de Sa Guardiola point barely endured one strong wave. It could reach Raco de S'Alga where definitely heeled and bottomed. Nineteen passengers were safely rescued by the City of Formentera cargo. In 1965 the Joven Dolores start the service, built by the shipowner Josep Serra i Ferrer in Tarragona. It was said that was the only one to complete the course even in rough seas, until it was acquired by the Maritime Formentera. It provided regular service until 1995 and was scrapped in Denia in 2005.

Practically the first thing meet after landing are the salines. It looks like the same that occupy Ibiza’s south and continue in northern Formentera. In fact, the Natural Park covers both and, in Formentera, comprises four ponds of different sizes: to the west from La Savina harbour is Estany des Peix, to the east Ferrer Salines, the Salines d'en Marroig and Estany Pudent, the stinky pond. This had been once a freshwater lagoon and its deepest point is sixteen feet. In the eighteenth century was opened a canal called Sa Sequia that communicated with the open sea ceasing to be a backwaters unhealthy place. However the fact did not change the name. Outside Sa Sequia was carved in the same stone a fish farm to keep alive the fishing extracted from the lagoon. Roe, once dried, were exported to the mainland. A train carrying salt to the port ran by the northern barrier. Estany Pudent was formerly Estany des Flamencs, birds now virtually non-existent in these waters, but as is often the legend attributes other sources, in this case the dispute between two sisters for the inheritance of the lands today flooded. Both went from words to curses:

-       Mala fi puguis tu fer, i s’hisenda també! 

-       Lo que desitges tenguis!

-       (Bad end you have, and also for your belongings!

-       What you wish you get!)

ending up being fulfilled when a large wave crossed over the dunes flooding their homes and land. The engineer Paul Ordovás, stationed in Ibiza in 1796 collected his impressions about the place: Los ardores del sol en el estío lo corrompen, causando un fetor intolerable en sus inmediaciones, lo que hase se respire un ayre pestilente y nocivo. (sic)  (The summer sun heat corrupts it, causing an intolerable pestilence in its vicinity, which causes a stinking and harmful air breathes).

Between Estany Pudent and Marroig, a megalithic tomb recalls that the island was inhabited since ancient times, albeit discontinuously. Is Ca Na Costa, discovered in 1974, and popularly known as the watch by their geometric arrangement in three concentric circles reminiscent of a clock. In Barbaria there are three archaeological sites of megalithic settlements dating from 1900 to 1600 BC. Rome also left its trace in Castellum de Can Blai, a lookout and defence in the area of the isthmus, between the towns of Sant Ferran and Es Caló discovered in 1979. During Al-Andalus period Formentera suffered the visit of the Northmen. They already ravaged long ago Galician coasts and Ishbiliya, Seville, almost at the Emirate capital gates. Then, in the year 1109, King Sigurðr Magnusson, also known as the Crusader, returning from the Holy Land ended up on the island attacking the Muslim garrison in Cova d'es Fums, the Smoky Cave, named so after that episode. The facts are recounted in the Halldórr Skvaldri’s poem Útfararkviða included in the history of the kings of Norway in the Snorri Sturluson 1220 Heimskringla: Varð fyrir stafni/ styrjar gjornum / friðraskaði/ Forminterra / þar varð eggjar/ ok eld þola/ blámanna lið/ áðr bana fengi. (To Formentera arrived eager of combat. The Saracen host before being put to death must face the sword and the fire.)

Between the Catalan conquest in 1235 and until the year 1696 the island was practically deserted. Pirate raids discouraged repopulation until in a more or less voluntary and more or less forced mode, the first settlers there’s record of their names arrived. They were Marc Ferrer and Blai Tur Damia who settled near Sa Tanca Vella Church. This first chapel was built on the island in 1336, a century after Guillem de Montgrí conquest. Until eighteenth century new temples would be built on the island. In 1738 Sant Francesc Xavier and in 1772 Pilar de la Mola on one of the two rock masses that dominate the island giving it its peculiar shape. Between two headlands lays Es Carnatge isthmus, which at its narrowest point has not even a mile wide and starting in the small town of Es Caló, just a fishing shelter but for some apartments and restaurants.

A triangular massif rises to form the western end of Barbaria Point. Its surface is an uninhabited plateau that ends abruptly on the sea forming steep cliffs over three hundred feet high. At the apex is the lighthouse, the southernmost in the Islands and near an old watchtower, d'en Garroveret which along with four others, Sa Guardiola on Espalmador Island, Sa Gavina, d'es Pi des Català and Punta Prima, all built in the eighteenth century, organized surveillance of the island in more convulsed days.

To the east, as if it were a counterweight, the territory rises again for, just as in Barbaria, rushing to the sea from the heights. Highest point is in the Talaiassa de la Mola at 640 feet high. On the Massif de la Mola is Church of Pilar, close to the old windmill built in 1778. Northwards is Cova Fumada referring to the legend of Saracens and Normans and eastwards stands the lighthouse. It was built in 1861 and in their particular anecdotes figures that one of the rescue of an airplane pilot during World War II who was taken to the seaplane base that then existed in the Estany Pudent. The keeper received as reward one thousand pesetas. Near, a plaque set up in 1978 reminds the French writer Jules Verne who was inspired by Formentera without having ever stepped on for his novel Hector Servadac, voyages et aventures à travers le monde solaire, in which the impact of a meteorite into the earth causes the separation of a fragment that will travel through outer space. The fragment is none other than a part of the western Mediterranean:

Formentera! s’écrièrent presque à la fois le comte Timascheff et le capitaine Servadac. Ce nom était celui d’une petite île du groupe des Baléares, situé dans la Méditerranée.

(Formentera! Almost simultaneously the Count Timascheff and Captain Servadac shouted. This was the name of a small island of the Balearic group, found in the Mediterranean.)  

© J.L.Nicolas


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