There was a great deal of interest in windmills last week. It was to do with the Euroregion windmills' route, the Euroregion in question being the one to which Mallorca belongs (Catalonia, the Pyrenees, Languedoc, Roussillon). Six Mallorcan windmills officially became part of this route. Four of them are privately owned and have been restored, while two are town hall properties (one in Montuiri, the other in Manacor). The Council of Mallorca is backing the route, meaning that it is to be promoted as an example of the island's heritage and of its industrial heritage in particular.
Of the four privately owned mills, there is one in both Montuiri and Manacor as well, plus ones in Porreres and Llucmajor. They go under names that, in some instances, indicate ownership just like estates and houses, such as Molí de Can Nofre (in Montuiri). The two publicly owned ones are called Molí des Fraret for reasons that escape me. A fraret is a puffin in Catalan. The word may be a corruption from fariner to indicate flour mill. Whatever the meaning, the windmill in Manacor dates from the eighteenth century, as does its counterpart in Montuiri, which now doubles as the archaeological museum for the Son Fornés Talayotic site in the town.
Most of the windmills are from a similar time. In Montuiri, where there are several mills, Can Nofre is in fact the oldest, as it was built in the seventeenth century. But the windmills of Majorca are from much older times. References to pre-Catalan times don't seem to exist, though there were undoubtedly mills during the Muslim period. The first true documentation comes from the thirteenth century. Ramon Llull mentioned them, while the oldest specific reference is to the windmill of S'Alqueria Blanca in Santanyi in 1262.
Windmills didn't really come into their own until the sixteenth century, however. This was when the period of windmill expansion started and it was to continue into the twentieth century. The originals were of roughly similar design and specification: up to eight metres high, ten metres in diameter and with walls some one metre thick. This was the spec, in any event, of the traditional flour mill. The designs of others varied, as did their purpose: some for extracting water, while there were others that were water mills, i.e. driven by running water.
But water extraction had mainly relied on animal power. Donkeys and mules would walk round and round, blindfolded in order to prevent sickness. The animals would also be used to grind wheat, salt and clay. Known as the "molinos de sangre", the mills of blood, there had been a time when donkeys and mules hadn't been needed: slaves were deployed instead.
The greatest revolution with windmills wasn't to be until the mid-nineteenth century: 1845 to be precise. It was then that the first true water mill, i.e. one that harnessed wind to extract water, was used by the Dutch engineer Paul Bouvij for accelerating the drying of wetlands in the Prat de Sant Jordi in Palma.
This mill, with a lateen sail-style wheel, was added to by ever more innovative designs, primarily the "ramell" (for flower) designs. And by now, the new mills were almost exclusively used to get water out of the ground. While they were to be found all over the island, there were concentrations in specific areas: in and around Palma; in the south-eastern zone of Campos and Ses Salines; and in the potato and vegetable-growing region of Sa Pobla and Muro. Further and ever more modern designs came along as technology introduced the American-style wind pump in the 1920s and then wind turbines for electricity generation from the 1930s.
Though the windmills are part of an old industrial heritage, they are also very much part of the present. Of water-pumping windmills, a census of 2002 registered more than 2,500, getting on for a half of them in the Palma area. In Campos there were over 600. Of flour-grinding mills, a different census in the late 1990s put their number at 796, with concentrations in Llucmajor, Felanitx, Palma and Manacor. So it has been the case that the ancient technology, adapted to contemporary use, has seen the number of mills increase over the years. Between 1960 and the start of the last century, over 600 water mills were added.
Index for February 2016
Basketball - 8 February 2016
Beach chiringuitos - 10 February 2016
British abroad - 26 February 2016
City branding and emotion - 5 February 2016
Corruption trials - 25 February 2016
EU referendum - 23 February 2016
Floating waterparks - 11 February 2016
Green taxes v. tourist tax - 9 February 2016
Groundhog Day and Mallorca - 4 February 2016
Holiday rentals and government - 17 February 2016
Hotel receptionists - 19 February 2016
Joan Binimelis - 21 February 2016
Libraries in Mallorca - 15 February 2016
Mallorca Maritime Museum - 18 February 2016
Mariano Rajoy and Pedro Sánchez - 14 February 2016, 28 February 2016
Més and the Balearic government - 24 February 2016
Palma town hall and managing people - 16 February 2016
Place names: Palma and Alcudia - 1 February 2016
PSOE and the dangers of Podemos - 2 February 2016
Tourism technology - 13 February 2016
Tourist tax - 6 February 2016, 7 February 2016, 12 February 2016, 20 February 2016, 22 February 2016, 27 February 2016
Windmills in Mallorca - 29 February 2016
Zika and other plagues - 3 February 2016