Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Price Of Preservation

Inca has a local publication called "Dijous". It is a weekly, though its title carries more significance than just a day of the week. It is a nod firmly in the direction of the annual fair which took place last week. "Dijous" has this year been celebrating forty years of existence, which is an achievement of continuous publishing compared with many local magazines that have come and gone since then. Ten years after its first issue hit the streets, the bars and the banks, its front page for the edition dated 22 November 1984 carried photos of the Dijous Bo fair and an editorial which had nothing to do with the fair. Its headline was "El Puig d'Inca, el Puig de Santa Magdalena".

It was an editorial which referred to "our hill". Whether the Puig d'Inca or the Puig de Santa Magdalena (either will do), the editorial was concerned that it might have been on the point of becoming the Puig de Mallorca. It was clueless as to what was meant by a statement which had been released the day before publication which said that the Council of Mallorca had bought the puig. It didn't understand how the Council had come to buy it or indeed why it had. It recognised that the Council wasn't about to start taking bits of the puig away or to begin developing it, but it bemoaned a sense of loss of "ownership", that among the people of Inca.

What the Council was principally interested in was the hermitage, the Ermita de Santa Magdalena and church. The religious community at the top of the hill had been there since the days of the Catalan conquest in the first half of the thirteenth century. In 1931 hermits of the congregation of Sant Pau and Sant Antoni came to the hermitage. A year after the Council acquired the hermitage, they left, not because they were kicked out but because their number was in decline. There was, by 1984, an issue about the hermitage going forward. Who would look after it and preserve it? The Council resolved the matter by acquiring it.

Once the hermits had left Santa Magdalena, a process of restoration was begun, and work on the interior of the temple was finished in 1994. Despite the misgivings expressed in the "Dijous" editorial, the hill of the people of Inca and its hermitage were being cared for by the Council, and I use the story of the hermitage as an example of the preservation that the Council has undertaken and of the preservation which other bodies have been responsible for.

Other acquisitions made by the Council have included Can Weyler in Palma, the old Gothic house in the Calle Pau, which was bought for over 1.5 million euros in 2010, while other organisations include Sa Nostra bank and the Fundació Illes Balears. This latter foundation, formed by the one-time president of the Balearics, Gabriel Cañellas, at the end of 1988, has acquired seven properties. Among them are: the castle of Sant Elm, which dates from the late thirteenth century and which was bought by the foundation in 1995; S'Illot, a finca in Albufera known also as Ses Puntes; Son Pax on the Sóller road out of Palma; the eighteenth-century fort in Cala Llonga. Among the acquisitions made by Sa Nostra is the regional museum in Artà.

There are, therefore, various organisations which devote resources to preserving the heritage of Mallorca and of the Balearics. These are very laudable efforts, but how effective is some of the preservation and how sensible might some of the acquisitions have been? Take Can Weyler, for instance. Its cost was in fact more than double the 1.5 million, as the total was 3.2 million to include restoration work. Two years ago, former occupants of the building, ARCA, the association for the revitalisation of old (town) centres, criticised the lack of restoration. The Council had forgotten Can Weyler. And then there is Sa Nostra, a bank founded in 1882 as a non-profit organisation whose profits go towards social and cultural work. A month ago "El País" was asking why there was such apparent silence regarding the affairs of Sa Nostra since it had become part of BMN, a bank formed by crisis-struck institutions like Sa Nostra. The report said that it was selling off some of its culturally and historically significant properties. 

While the "Dijous" editorial in 1984 expressed its concerns, those were early days of autonomous government and of the Council's involvement in guaranteeing the future of Mallorca's heritage. It has unquestionably done a great deal of good in this regard, as have others. But one has to ask in certain instances at what cost and with what regard to ongoing restoration? 3.2 million euros at the height of the economic crisis was an awful lot of preservation commitment.

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