We have just traveled all over the impressive engravings of Georg Braun’s and Franz Hogenberg’s Civitates orbis terrarum, published in six volumes from 1572 to 1617, looking for the depictions of the lighthouses which marked at that time the ports or capes. Interestingly, the result has been very poor. In fact, we could clearly identify only those which we see below.
Not even the lighthouse of Alexandria deserves a comment or particular attention in Braun’s work. Perhaps the fact that Georg Braun (1541-1622) spent all his life in Cologne, far from the sea, did not allow him to gauge the importance of lighthouses in so many coastal cities.
One of the few commentaries throughout the work of Braun on the role of signal towers to guide the ships on the sea is printed in the cartouche of this engraving: “ADEN, a famous commercial center of Arabia, home to merchants from India, Ethiopia and Persia. Aden is a magnificent city, well fortified both by its location and its walls, famed for the beauty and number of its buildings, protected by cliffs and high mountains, on whose tops burning torches guide the ships towards the bay. Formerly it was a peninsula, but as a result of human industry, is now completely surrounded by water.”
On an island, from the moment it begins to be inhabited, lighthouses, watchtowers and signal towers form a part of the coastal landscape. Some of these constructions serve to guide the vessels of the locals, while others to protect them from the surreptitious arrival of enemy ships. The history of Mallorca, as it cannot be different on an island, is a history of invasions and looting.
The Roman bridge in Pollensa
But the main defense of Mallorca were not the watchtowers, but the steep mountain range that falls abruptly into the sea along the entire northern coast, as if it were a spine holding the whole island. The Serra de Tramuntana also defends the internal flat lands from the northern wind coming powerfully from the Gulf of Lion, which severely torments unprotected Menorca in the winter. This blessed mountain, haven of bandits and smugglers, dotted with ancient olive trees of tormented trunks, worked throughout hard with stone terraces trying to control erosion, studded with hermitages, lime kilns, snow houses, bunkers, oak forests, legends on giants and hidden treasures, has just become part of the UNESCO World Heritage.
At each end of the Serra de Tramuntana there stands a lighthouse. To the north, that of Formentor. To the south, that of Sa Mola in Andratx.
The lighthouse of Formentor is the one standing the highest in the Balearic Islands, and its construction was not easy. The workers had to start from Cala Murta and the climb a steep road for twenty kilometers. Today, when a much more comfortable road leads up to the building, you can still have a fairly accurate picture of the nature and traditional life in this part of the mountain. When the first tourist boom began in the mid-60s, the Hotel Formentor, opened in 1929 became one of the most prestigious institutions of its kind. And still it is to some extent, an example of how Mallorca could host a high quality tourism industry.
Thanks to the presence of this hotel, the guestbook of the Formentor lighthouse keeps track of such illustrious visitors as for example the King of Kings Haile Selassie, a descendant of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, who spent here the winter of 1967.
In a no less daunting enclave in the southern corner of the island stands the lighthouse of Sa Mola. However, what we see here is the wild destruction caused by the real estate speculation that ruins this land and cannot be stopped by any law, neither knows anything about the protection of any patrimony. Perhaps the UNESCO statement will help to prevent such devastation, but our hopes are minimal. It is enough to listen to the first, unanimous declarations of the ruling and opposition parties, from across the political spectrum, welcoming the decision because – as they say – now even more tourists will come to Mallorca. Someone must already be imagining a highway from one end of the mountain range to the other so that one can visit in half an hour both lighthouses, and return to dinner at the hotel, or get into the disco club, or take the plane and get home before the sun sets. This kind of enemies are unfortunately not detected by the watchtowers.