Monday, February 15, 2016

Libraries Of Mallorca: Old and new

They opened the library in Deia the other day. This village of the Tramuntana with its long and rich cultural associations had oddly not been home to a library. It now is, and it bears a name that resonates with those associations. It is dedicated to Juan Graves, one of the sons of Robert, who died last year. The mayor, Magdalena López, said that they wanted the library to harvest the love that Juan had for culture. The library is not so far, because nothing is so far in Deia village, from the Casa Robert Graves, where Juan grew up, surrounded by books. They are still there, the Graves' house library of works by the author and by many others, some of which speak of those with whom Robert was familiar, such as "The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book". Alice was Gertrude Stein's partner. There are few more famous quotes than Stein's when she directed Robert towards Mallorca. "It's paradise, if you can stand it."

The vice-president for culture at the Council of Mallorca, Francesc Miralles, observed that it wasn't every day that a library was opened. In an era when the role of libraries can seem somewhat diminished, it is reassuring to know that a place still exists for them. Deia was incomplete without one. Now it is whole, the cultural hole of an absent library filled under this famous name.

Of course it didn't used to be like it is today with the access of the internet. Libraries were the repositories of knowledge, learning and refinement. But when was Mallorca's first public library opened?

In the nineteenth century there was a process of confiscation of church and religious order property. From this came the establishment of a network of public libraries, which were stocked with books that had belonged to the church. The Provincial Library in Palma was thought to have been the very first in 1835. However, recent research points to a library having been established several decades earlier. This was the library of the Literary University of Mallorca, which came into being following an earlier series of confiscations: those of Jesuit schools in Palma and Pollensa when suppression of the Jesuits was enforced by Carlos III in 1767. The library, documents reveal, was being put together three years later and in 1785 it was opened as a public library. The university itself had been founded in the late fifteenth century but it, along with its library, was not to survive the illiberal persecutions of Ferdinand VII, and so it, has had been the case with the Jesuits, was suppressed.

This wasn't, of course, the first library. That came into being centuries before and was linked to the story of the Royal Monastery in the Secar de la Real area of Palma. This monastery was originally due to have been built away from the "Ciutat" in Esporles, but its location near to the city was finally agreed upon. There is some debate about when the monastery came into existence, but 1239 seems as though it was the date. The library was to come later, though when it was first being stocked is hard to say. By 1386, it had become of enough importance for an inventory to have been created and circulated for the first time. However, there are sufficient documentary hints to suggest that by the second half of the thirteenth century it had already become a significant place of knowledge. Indeed, it seems that Ramon Llull used the library to access texts in Arabic around the time that he was persuading the Mallorcan kings to build the Miramar monastery in Valldemossa. In that village, another important library was to be established at the Charterhouse. A major inventory of its books, texts and other documents was published in 1548.

To return to more modern times, in the Franco era Mallorca was not awash with public libraries. In 1950s' Palma, for instance, there was one at the town hall and another at the Casa de Cultura in the Calle Ramon Llull. This was in fact the successor to that provincial library that had been created in 1835 as the State Public Library of Palma and had been housed in the convent of Montesión before being relocated in 1955. Almost fifty years later, in 2004, it was given a new home, which is where it now is, in the Plaça Porta Santa Catalina.

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