Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Price On Prehistory: S'Illot

Where do you reckon was the first and most popular "chiringuito" (beach bar) in Mallorca in the 1960s? Playa de Palma perhaps, Palmanova possibly? Neither. It was, or so it is said, in S'Illot, the resort on the east coast that is shared by the towns of Sant Llorenç and Manacor. The chiringuito, which had remarkably enough opened in 1951, was known as Bar S'Illot, so there was nothing remarkable about the name, but it was a genuine beach bar back then as there wasn't anything between it and the beach. There is now, while Bar S'Illot assumed a new name earlier this year - Fifty Seven (and no, I don't know that there is any connection with Heinz).

That the bar should have been as popular as it was back in the day is surprising for two reasons; there was pretty much nothing and no one there and there was an almost complete lack of utilities. S'Illot was back-of-beyond Mallorca and when, in 1963, Jaume de Juan arrived in S'Illot, there was no electricity, no water and no telephone. There were a couple of hotels which ran off generators, to which was to be added Jaume's own hotel. He was honoured a few years ago for his contribution to tourism, having become a co-founder of the Mallorca hoteliers federation, and having shown that, along with the most popular beach bar of a bygone era, S'Illot was at the forefront of Mallorca's early years of tourism.

Why do I mention all this? The reason is to highlight the fact that tourism had humble roots and that it grew up in parts of the island which might have been unexpected. And in S'Illot there doesn't appear to have been any obviously thought-out plan for development in the early 1960s. Jaume de Juan has said that in 1963 he turned up in a Seat 600 bringing with him a shovel. There was a plot available and he got on with it, though one suspects there was rather more to it than a spot of digging.

It's a good yarn, nevertheless, and one packed with nostalgia for the fifty years which have passed since he began his hotel adventure and since the Bar S'Illot, now restored and renamed, was somehow defying its out-of-the-way location to have acquired the reputation it had. It's a yarn which also confirms the fact that there is a whole, largely untold story about Mallorca's tourism, one whose starting-points can be movable. To take S'Illot's as an example, though Jaume de Juan was to become the most celebrated of its hoteliers and the one who created a breakthrough for S'Illot as a resort, in the mid-1950s the first hotel to have opened in Cala Moreia was owned by one Pere Caldentey, a native of Sant Llorenç and, at the time the hotel was being built, the third-choice goalkeeper for Barcelona.

One can't call the people of the prehistoric talayot period tourists, but S'Illot has something of an oddball charm about it that is the result of having, only some 200 metres from the beach, a talayotic settlement. To be honest, you don't tend to get too many talayotic settlements more or less slap bang in the middle of a tourist area, but in S'Illot you do. But, and especially given where the settlement is, the modern day comes firmly into play, this modern day being in the form of land law, one that S'Illot tourism pioneers of the 1960s would not have given a great deal of attention to. In 1976, however, a national law was passed which, when applied to the prehistoric settlement, determined that it was green land liable to have to be expropriated. Over thirty years later, this law finally swung into action, and Sant Llorenç town hall came to realise that it had to expropriate the settlement's land, i.e. it had to pay the owners a market value, and the owners were the ones who pressed for the council to pay. Sant Llorenç is now in for some three million euros which will be paid in instalments. It could have been more, had a court been involved and arbitrated.

It seems bizarre that there can actually be an owner of a prehistoric settlement and that a local authority is legally obliged to hand over a fair old wedge for something it is already managing and which would surely not be subject to any form of development because of other laws. But bizarre is how things often are and how altogether more complex things are compared with the days when Jaume de Juan could take a shovel out of his Seat 600 and start digging.

* Photo of part of the talayotic settlement from the PDF from

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