Sunday, June 05, 2016

The Lost Beach Of The Small Huts

Have you ever heard the story about the town which used to have a beach but no longer does? There is one such town and it lost its beach 62 years ago. This wasn't through some freakish intervention of nature. It had to do with what is nowadays the National Geographic Institute but which in 1954 was referred to as the Geographic and Cadastral Institute. That name gives a clue as to what happened in 1954. Cadastral, when used for public administration purposes, determines boundaries, ownership and tax raising. A county, for instance, is a cadastral division. In the case of Mallorca and Spain it also had to do with defining municipalities.

Curiously enough, there wasn't a complete and detailed national topographic map, i.e. one which showed precisely what constituted different places, e.g. municipalities. Under orders from the Geographic and Cadastral Institute, three municipalities had to sit down and figure out exactly where their boundaries were and who owned what. These municipalities were Alcudia, Muro and Sa Pobla. It was the latter of these which lost its beach.

Anyone familiar with the current-day geography of Mallorca will know that Sa Pobla is firmly a municipality in Mallorca's interior. So how did it ever come to have a beach? Well, it all had to do with Albufera. A great part of this wetland used to be within Sa Pobla. Nowadays only a relatively small part, well back from the sea, is in the municipality. And as a consequence of this one-time municipal "ownership", Sa Pobla in essence reached as far as the bay of Alcudia.

What happened in 1954 is hard to accurately pin down, but it has been said that Sa Pobla did not negotiate well and also failed to have any vision of the future. Beach tourism had yet to come to the bay of Alcudia (except for the original Club Med tents in 1950), so the town hall could possibly have been excused its lack of foresight. There was horse-trading mainly between Sa Pobla and Muro, and Sa Pobla believed it had got a good deal by grabbing interior land that had been Muro's. But by way of compensation, it lost what was effectively its beach.

The arrangement that now exists on the bay of Alcudia is that the boundary limit of Muro (and so Playa de Muro) is at the Camí Can Blau. This is a road that cuts inland from the main beach road. From this boundary line going eastwards is the first "sector" of Playa de Muro. This sector ends where the grand canal of Albufera enters the sea. This sector is what used to be Sa Pobla's beach.

The agreement of 1954 did in fact bring to an end a squabble that had existed between Alcudia, Sa Pobla and Muro for at least three centuries. Muro had always been the one to lose out when it came to its ownership of Albufera. The irony will now not be lost on the people of Sa Pobla: that Muro has become wealthy because of what is generally a high quality beach tourism. While Sa Pobla has had to rely on its traditional agriculture, Muro was able to diversify economically, thanks to the decision of 1954 which gave it a couple of kilometres of beach that it wouldn't have otherwise had.

One can find evidence of nostalgia for that old beach. The writer Miquel López Crespí, born in Sa Pobla in 1946, recalls the summer of 1954. The agreement had been signed in May of that year but had yet to take effect. It was the last summer that the people of Sa Pobla would go to their beach and put up what were makeshift small huts for the summer. They called it "Ses Casetes". This was unlike the Ses Casetes further along the bay where Playa de Muro meets Can Picafort, which is still very much there and consists of (mostly) one-time church-owned cottages.

The Sa Pobla Ses Casetes was like a shanty town, but it had its own bar, Figuera. Some fifty families used to go and take over the beach each summer. After 1954 they could of course still go to the beach but they couldn't install their temporary huts.

Miquel López Crespí, reflecting on the loss of the beach and then of the great changes that occurred because of tourism, has written: "Nothing now remains of that full moon in August at Bar Figuera when the owner, Jaume, would sing some of the old songs, accompanying himself with his peasant ximbomba."

* Photo of the canal where it enters the sea in Playa de Muro. To the left, from the Esperanza, is what was once the Sa Pobla beach.

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