Friday, April 25, 2014

Mysteries Of Alcúdia's Port

Passengers with Saga Cruises have been undertaking a Magical Mystery Tour of the Mediterranean. The cruise involves surprises; the passengers don't know which their ports of call will be. On Wednesday, they discovered that one of them was Puerto Alcúdia. Saga Pearl II docked, and as has now become traditional, lady mayor Coloma Terrasa was there at the commercial port to greet the passengers. One says traditional; it is a tradition now only in its third year.

Alcúdia may not have originally been the chosen Mallorcan destination. It might have been Palma. But Alcúdia stands to receive rather more than the couple of scheduled ships this year. The reason? Palma can get too congested. According to the harbour pilot, Avelino Fernández, speaking at the time of the boat show earlier this month, six or seven craft are likely to be diverted to Alcúdia.

Before anyone gets carried away - and there has perhaps been some misunderstanding as to the type of craft that Alcúdia can accommodate - none of the ships is going to be particularly large. Sr. Fernández reckons that ships of up to 220 metres length could be able to use the port. To put this into context, the Prinsendam, the largest to have so far come into Alcúdia, was 205 metres and had a passenger capacity of 740. There are never going to be giant ships arriving in Alcúdia.

But what of the passengers onboard Saga Pearl II? What would their impressions have been? If they were aware of a touch of local industrial history, they would have known that the most obvious sign of such history was as old as most of them: the former power station was constructed in the 1950s.

While GESA's one-time source of electricity generation in the north will not prevent cruise ships coming to Alcúdia, its presence does not offer the most charming of sights for the arriving passenger. De-commissioned long ago, its future remains as much of a mystery as the Saga Mediterranean mystery tour.

Industrial heritage is a fine thing - and Mallorca could, were anyone of a mind to, provide interesting excursions that highlight this heritage (old mine works, former factories and so on) - but there is a place for such heritage. Next to a commercial port with ambitions of increasing its cruise-ship business is arguably not one of these places.

The power station was of course due to have been converted into a museum of science and technology. This conversion was conceived as having been "the clearing in the forest" by the Barcelona-based architects firm which won the tender. No sooner had they won and had they presented their design at Alcúdia's auditorium, than the project was put on hold. Even at the time that the presentation was being made, there was an admission that funding was not in place. When crisis struck soon after, the project was placed in mothballs. Last heard of, the president of the Council of Mallorca, Maria Salom, had intimated that the project hadn't been particularly sensible. It would have been, one can see with hindsight, a project that was typical of the days of plenty and of profligacy, one without any guarantee of success. A vanity project, in other words. It will never happen.

But there are plenty of people who want something to happen. The architects would have retained the two chimneys. Perhaps this was right, perhaps it was wrong, but it is the chimneys, more than anything, which are the evidence of the abandoned and rotting power station. Passengers coming into port can't avoid them. Anyone on the bay of Alcúdia, admiring the sweep of this massive watery chunk lifted from between Cap Farrutx and Cap Pinar, can't avoid clocking them either.

GESA, it seems, can't get away from architectural-preservation controversy and/or eyesores. The power station has far greater merit in terms of preservation than Palma's non-descript office block of sixties Brutalism, but its location is the issue. It is simply wrong for the present day.

This said, it does hold an important role in Alcúdia's history and development, as indeed does the old port, now modernised and with deeper waters for larger craft. Puerto Alcúdia had enjoyed tourism from the 1930s, but the early sixties tourism movement was only partially responsible for the boom that the port experienced. The power station and its workers were also responsible. 

Will anything happen? It's impossible to say. Demolition is probably not an option. One only has to think of the interminable wrangle and legal opinion in respect of the GESA building to know that demolition would be unlikely. So, passengers coming into Alcúdia will have to get used to the sight. The power station's going nowhere.

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