Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Survival Of Mallorca's Mediaevalism

Mediaevalism survives in Mallorca. It is buried deep in the soul of the people. It stands on and shapes the landscape. It is the past that characterises the present.

It started with the fall of the Roman Empire. It is taken as having definitively ended - in Spain at any rate - with the fall of the final bastion of Islam: the surrender of Granada in the same year, 1492, that Columbus undertook his first voyage of discovery.

Mediaevalism spanned a thousand years. Over those centuries, Mallorca experienced conquest by Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs and Catalans. Of the Vandals, we know very little, other than the fact that they tended to live up to their name. Byzantine evidence is greater, such as with remains at Son Peretó in Manacor and the fortifications of Alaró, the Castell del Rei in Pollensa and Castell de Santueri in Felanitx. But even this is limited. The Arabs and the Catalans truly defined what we know of Mallorca's mediaevalism.

It is Catalan mediaevalism, above all, which marks the link with the past to the present. Mallorca's pretensions to contributing to a European intellectual heritage emerged soon after the conquest of Jaume I. Ramon Llull embodied this. It was he who was also instrumental in determining a mediaeval landscape that survives, as with Miramar in the Tramuntana, a mountain range that was otherwise shaped by mediaeval cultures. Unesco has recognised how those cultures influenced the mountains with their human intervention - the dry stone structures most of all.

The Catalans brought with them new fortifications, grander affairs than the ancient ones such as the Castell del Rei. Typically, they expanded what was already there. In Capdepera, the original castle dates from the early fourth century. While the Arabs extended it, the Catalans were to increase its size very much more significantly.

The Romans had named it Caput petrae, the head of stone. From this Latin origin came Cap de la Pera. The first documented reference to Cap de la Pera was in the "Llibre dels fets" which chronicled the reign of Jaume I. The proximity of this north-eastern part of Mallorca to Menorca was the reason why it was chosen for an act of formal surrender: by the Arabs of Menorca.

The name Capdepera was officially recognised when the village was granted its "royal" status by Jaume II in 1300, a status that was given to many Mallorcan villages at that time. It was a "vila". It was Jaume II who was the great fortification builder. Along the coast from Capdepera, he ordered the building of the walls of Alcudia. Pope Innocent IV issued a papal bull in 1248 by which the parish of Sant Jaume de Guinyent was established. It was later to be known as Sant Jaume d'Alcudia, retaining the name that the Arabs had introduced. Alcudia's walls were to protect the village but they were also the grand fortification for the north of Mallorca. Capdepera's castle was to defend the north-east and, like Alcudia's walls, to also defend the people.

Exposed on the north-eastern tip, the villagers - for their safety and in order to defend the castle - were moved inside its walls. There were some sixty dwellings in all. The castle was one of the principal examples of the building of later mediaeval fortification.

Nowadays, Capdepera recognises its mediaeval roots more than mostly anywhere else in Mallorca. Since 2000 there has been the annual Mediaeval Market. Whereas there are any number of mediaeval themes to fairs, Capdepera goes the whole hog. Over a weekend in May, it seeks to re-create the atmosphere of some 700 years ago. It is probably as well that it doesn't do this with true authenticity - given that sanitary conditions were not like they are today - but in spirit it can be said that the market is to the fore in demonstrating quite how much mediaevalism survives in Mallorca.

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