Monday, January 06, 2014

The Town With Two Dots: Montuïri

Montuïri is one of those strange places in Mallorca about which most people, always assuming they know it exists, have very little knowledge, except for the 2,855 inhabitants of what one hesitates to describe as a town. Its name, though, is rather unusual, and this alone should grant Montuïri a certain kudos. You will note that there is an umlaut but which, in strict orthographic terms, is a diaeresis or hiatus, meaning that both vowels are stressed. While not uncommon in either Spanish or Catalan, the double dots look odd. For this reason, therefore, Montuïri is odd.

But the history of the town (sic) is not in the least bit odd in Mallorcan terms. As with several others, it was founded and granted "royal" status by King Jaume II in the year 1300 while its toponymy (the study of the origins of its name) is, as with other towns on the island, open to some debate. The Latin "Mons Tueris" is a front-runner, which means it was a mountain of protection or defence, but there are competing theories, while the contraction to what is now Montuïri is put down to the Mozarabic period of Muslim occupation, i.e. "Muntuwîri", and its meaning to village of the mountain (derived from the same period).

It is this linguistic debate which affords a place like Montuïri a certain mystique. It isn't unusual in this regard because other names are open to interpretation, but it is the very fact that total certainty doesn't exist which adds to the mystique and emphasises the multi-cultural influences that stretch back into near and far antiquity. Mallorca's towns are exercises in looking for clues, in seeking explanations. Their fascination goes way beyond their physical attributes .

A curiosity with the name, however, is the "mons" part. Montuïri is on Mallorca's plain. This is flat, agricultural land (hence the plain), but there are nevertheless hills, rather than mountains. The highest elevation in the municipality is 342 metres. It may not be that high, but in warring times up to two millennia ago any hill came in useful: "mons tueris", mountain of defence.

The slightly fewer than 3,000 residents of Montuïri are swelled in summer by an estimated 670. Well away from the coastal bustle and mass invasion of tourists, Montuïri is representative of a very different Mallorca, an "authentic" Mallorca, so it is said. Five small hotels and agrotourism establishments provide just over 130 places. Very different indeed.

Despite its smallness, Montuïri does of course have a town hall. And the local council, as with others on the island, has been charged with putting in place a tourism plan. This has been demanded by the tourism ministry under its diktat in the 2012 tourism law. Its neighbour Algaida, roughly twice the size, approved its plan recently. Unlike Algaida, though, Montuïri does have a councillor who has responsibility for tourism. There may be little obvious tourism, as is the case also in Algaida, but this is not for want of having charged a councillor with overseeing it.

Montuïri has enlisted the help of the Mallorcan hoteliers federation in drawing up its plan for 2014-2015. But quite what help the federation has given is not entirely clear. The plan covers the town's cultural, natural environment, archaeology (in particular the talayotic settlement of Ses Fornés), birdwatching, the rural tourism marked by its agrotourism and sports, including cycling, hiking and Nordic walking. No doubt the federation has proved to be useful, but it is not a plan which sets the pulse racing or which is markedly different from other towns, such as Algaida. It, too, has its natural environment and its cycling, though it does also have the Osborne bull and makes more of its gastronomy than Montuïri appears to be doing (Algaida is reckoned to be the centre of Mallorcan-style cuisine). And the plan doesn't seem to emphasise something for which Montuïri does have a claim to fame; its "cossier" dancers at August fiesta time.

There again, why should it set the pulse racing? This is inland, rural, alternative Mallorca where very little happens and where, because very little happens, has an attraction of tranquility and authenticity. But is it enough? And having drawn up this plan, what will happen with it? How will it be rolled out in promotional terms? Will it be rolled out in the form of promotion?

The ministry has stipulated that each town has to have a tourism plan. Put them together and these plans should amount to one grand plan. But is this what is going to happen? And even if they are put together, what will they amount to? Montuïri is not unique. The same can be said for Algaida. They are towns in Mallorca's interior which suffer from a lack of obvious selling points. They have ruralism, they have nature, they have cycling, but there has to be more.

The point is that there is more. If you look for it. But not everyone does. There exists this mystique, this peculiarity about Mallorcan towns that can fascinate and attract. This is what needs stressing. And with Montuïri, it has an obvious advantage. Why the hell are there two dots in its name?

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