Escorca

In the mountain inns of Mallorca you still often find such kind of curiosities, trophies of mountain goats, stuffed black vultures, the photo galleries of the monsters born in the surrounding manors, memories of a one-time world, very different from that of today.



The Sierra de Tramuntana, the Western Mountains, as we have already written, used to be an extremely closed world, and in many respects still remained like that. However, it was crossed by a multitude of paths which connected to each other the houses, the hardly cultivable small valleys, the sheep-folds, oak forests, charcoal-klins, the hiding places of the smugglers coming up from the coast, the hideaways of outlaws, the watchtowers which observed the horizon of the sea and warned the villages about the emergence of pirates and hostile fleets. The following pictures were taken on the plateau of Escorca, from where the road begins to descend along the mountain river of Torrent de Pareis to the heart of the Sierra de Tramuntana. In the background the sea, an eternal border and promise.


“The region around the two main heights of the island, the Puig Major of Sóller and the Puig Major of Lluch emerges with wild and rocky ridges almost to the sea. There, at the coast emerge the fearful rocks of the Castell del Rey, under which lay the two small bays of Calobra  and Tuent, separated from each other by the Rocks of the Cow. In this almost unbroken series of cliffs only the Torrent de Pareis cuts the sole corridor, running down from the valley of Lluch. This wild chain of mountains which surprises so much the painter, on whose heights herds of scrawny goats graze he grass growing among the rocks, and above whose tops vultures hover in search of prey, is little adapted to human dwellings. The fishermen, when on calm days pass with horror under these threatening rocks, row without a break from Tuent to as far as Cala de San Vicente. […] After Tuent the scene unexpectedly changes. The mountains seem to leave the seashore, where only the narrow edge of the cliffs of the Costera remain. Here has its source the river of the same name, which is also used for producing electric power, and which discharges into the sea at the Punta de la Creu. (Archduke Luis Salvador de Austria, Die Balearen, ca. 1869)


In 1531 the famous Ottoman pirate Hayreddin Barbarossa, who had nested into the nearby island of Cabrera, raided the towns of Pollença and Sa Calobra, seizing a rich booty and many prisoners. His bloodiest and still remembered undertaking in the Balearic Islands was the plunder of the town of Mahón in Menorca, on 1 September 1535.



The finca of Cosconar, built in the crack of the rock, played a key role to protect the coastline, especially because from here the road led to the main shrine of Mallorca in Lluc. From 1571 onwards a constant chain of watchtowers were raised along the coast. The above large building, however, was already built in the 20th century as a gendarme barracks, above all against the smugglers. Its modest results in this field are marked by the fact that the territory for its construction was donated in 1924 by Joan March Ordinas who became one of the world’s richest men through smuggling. After the Civil War the building was abandoned for a long time. Now, restored, is part of the Cosconar finca.

Pirate attacks were so common here that the inhabitants of Cala Tuent and Sa Calobra in the summer slept in the forest, so as not to be surprised by the enemy in their own houses. From the end of the 16th century the captain of Sóller obliged all the inhabitants of the coastal settlements under the penalty of 200 ducats to permanently leave their towns. The coasts were attacked not only by the ships of “The Great Turk”, but also by the Genovese, already from 1338 onwards, and sometimes with very large fleets. Occasionally there appeared also French pirates. In 1648 viceroy Gurrea warned the mayors and jurors of Valldemossa, Deià and Sóller to watch over the coast, because recently eighteen French galleons appeared around the island. These towns were also responsible for the protection of the Torrent de Pareis, “even if it does not belong to your land”.



The coast was threatened by a wide variety of dangers. Between 1784 and 1828 it was watched over by a permanent coast guard, a kind of a cordon sanitaire against the illegal ships from Southern France, to whose risks attention was drawn for the first time by the great plague of 1720 in Marseilles. The most important economic activity of the coastline, however, was over a long period smuggling, which the “health guards” had to prevent by any possible means. This task, however, was characterized by a complete failure, due to the guards’ miserable salary. The inquiries opened on this almost never had any tangible result: the web of complicity and mutual assistance proved to be impermeable. Nobody knew anything, seen nothing, heard nothing. The documents of the inquiries were archived one after another.

The hardship of life along the coast is attested by these strophes from some old Mallorcan ballads:

A sa platja de Tuent
s'hi varen menjar un ca.
ja podeu considerar
que era a força de talent
At the coast of Tuent
they ate a dog.
You can imagine,
how great was the hunger.

En es Torrent de Pareis
han vengut a bolitjar,
en no tenir què menjar
és molt lluny de remeis.
They came to Torrente de Pareis
to fish with bola. *
If there is nothing to eat
this also does not help much.

Sa Costera es un bordell
ple d'artigues i batzers,
qui hi va gras hi perd es greix
i qui hi va prim hi perd sa pell.
The Costera is a brothel,
there grows only nettle and bramble.
Whoever is fat, loses his fat
whoever is thin, loses his skin.