Saturday, June 25, 2016

Where Resort Time Stood Still

Wednesday is the feast day for Sant Pere, Saint Peter, patron of fishermen. The fiestas are, therefore, happening in different parts of the island, not all of them - oddly enough - by the coast. But one coastal place which has more right than any other to claim the fiestas as its own is Colonia Sant Pere.

Once upon a time, there was nothing where Colonia Sant Pere now stands other than dunes, pines and scrub. It came into being in 1880, one of a series of new "colonies" for land development. This was not speculative building or anything of such nature, but purely agricultural, though there was the obvious further attraction of fishing. Some of the colonies failed to survive. One that didn't was Gatamoix, the settlement that the British engineers established for the drying and cultivation of Albufera. Notable among those which did survive are Colonia Sant Jordi and Porto Cristo as well of course as Colonia Sant Pere.

The church that was built was dedicated to Sant Pere, an indication that fishing was to become a part of the economy of this tiny settlement. Nowadays, it's not a great deal bigger, in terms of population, than it was originally: there are some 500 plus regular inhabitants. But it is notable in different ways. Edging towards the north-eastern tip of Mallorca, Colonia forms part of an area that may well be where human settlement on the island was first established.

The evidence for this lies principally with two sites: one is the dolmen burial site in Son Baulo (Can Picafort) and the other is a similar dolmen in S'Aigua Dolça, east of Colonia Sant Pere, that only became truly known about around twenty years ago. It hasn't satisfactorily or definitively been established that these are evidence of first settlements, but both pre-date what is taken to be the Talayotic period, of which there are plenty of examples all over Mallorca and Menorca; Ses Païsses in Arta is one of the best known. An assumption that has been made is that these most ancient settlements were by people who had crossed from Menorca. It may well be correct, as Menorca has signs of even earlier habitation from the third millennium BC.

Colonia Sant Pere, therefore, sits along a stretch of coast on the bay of Alcudia that is rich with prehistory. To its west is the necropolis of Son Real, a burial site that is of more recent vintage (all things being relative) than the dolmen sites: more recent by around a thousand years. It is also a coastal area with very little development.

Arta, of which Colonia is a part, is peculiar in that it stands out among all the coastal municipalities that run from Alcudia around the north-eastern tip and along the east coast because of its lack of resort development. A reason for this is surely its mountainous terrain; Arta has more in common with municipalities of the Tramuntana than with its neighbours when it comes to beach tourism. While it has its coves, there are really only three obvious beaches: Colonia's is one and the smallest, Cala Torta is another and the third and largest is Sa Canova, which lies between Colonia and Son Serra de Marina.

This neighbouring development, part of Santa Margalida rather than Arta, has its own peculiarity: plenty of residential properties but no hotels. It is a place which, together with Colonia, conspires to make this part of Mallorca an area where time seems to have stood still. Not completely of course, but it is an area that is a world away from Can Picafort and Cala Ratjada to either side. There is a sense also of the less than conventional, and not just because of the naturist beaches of Sa Canova and Cala Torta, Colonia's naturist hotel (the only one on the island) and the ambitions that Colonia has for being a dog-friendly tourist destination. As befits the mysterious nature of the prehistory, Son Serra was once the location for a "didgeridoo encounter". It took place six years ago in a wooded area near to the Talayotic site of Cova de sa Nineta. All pretty alternative stuff.

And alternative adequately describes this part of Mallorca. It is redolent of an era before giant resorts. Even now, it's stretching things to describe Colonia as a resort, although it is the only one that Arta can claim to have. Quiet it may be, but on Wednesday there will be the bangs of fireworks for Sant Pere. Not quite enough, though, to waken the dead of all that prehistory.

* Photo of Sa Canova from Wikimedia.

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