Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Ramon Gual, The Hero Of Valldemossa

In June 1535, the Holy Roman Emperor, Carlos V, aka Carlos I of Spain, came to Mallorca. He came and he wasn't alone. There were 40,000 soldiers as well on at least ninety different types of ship.

This military force was not for use in Mallorca. The Emperor decided to stop over. He wanted to visit the village that he had officially decreed to be the second city of Mallorca: the most loyal city of the Emperor. The honour had been bestowed twelve years earlier when the Emperor's forces had been on a military mission - the quashing of the Germanies uprising. Alcudia was that most loyal of cities. It was where the nobility had been able to take refuge. In October 1522 an imperial naval squadron had arrived in the bay of Pollensa. The uprising would be conclusively ended in July the following year. The Emperor wanted to show his thanks to Alcudia. He didn't stay long. He was on his way to Tunis, to liberate the city from the Ottoman admiral, Barbarossa.

The Emperor's interest in Mallorca was otherwise minimal. The island could have done with some of those troops having stayed around. Barbarossa died in 1546. He was succeeded as supreme commander of the Ottoman naval forces in the Mediterranean by Turgut Reis - Dragut, "the greatest pirate warrior of all time", it has been said.

We are very familiar with Dragut. How could we not be? Every August he reappears on the streets of Pollensa to re-enact what was a failed mission in 1550. Dragut is the best known of the Ottoman pirates, more so than Uchali, aka Occhiali, Oxiali, Uluj Ali, he of the Soller re-enactment.

The Mallorcan coast was under constant threat from the Ottomans by the mid-sixteenth century. The year after Dragut's failure in Pollensa, the Turks landed at Cap Pinar in Alcudia. While Joan Mas is remembered as the hero of Pollensa, it was Bartomeu Maura, the lieutenant in Alcudia, who was the victor the following year. He was helped by 150 men of Alcudia.

This episode in Alcudia, as with another one in 1558, has generally been forgotten. The same was the case with what happened on 1 October 1552. Four hundred years after this, there was a commemoration. It was an initiative of the town hall and of the painter Josep Coll Bardolet. The town hall in question was Valldemossa, and it marked the occasion by naming a street Ramon Gual. He was Valldemossa's Joan Mas, the captain who helped to eventually save the village.

The story is of a force of 36 men who faced 400 Turks, who had landed at the Cala d'en Claret. These invaders sacked the village. They killed Aina Creus, the grandmother of Catalina Thomàs, La Beata. The fact that the local people faced such apparently overwhelming opposition can make this story sound implausible, but they aren't as imbalanced as they were once reported. In 1755, the Glorias de Mallorca was published. This drew on the work of Vicente Mut, who was a military man but also an historian. He was in fact the chronicler of the Kingdom of Mallorca from 1641 to 1687. According to Mut, there were 500 "Moros" and just 28 men.

A later publication, the third volume of Historia general del reino de Mallorca (1841), elaborates on the previous. Ramon Gual by now had 35 men, and a reason why there were so few was because it was a Saturday and many had left to sell fruit (one guesses in Palma). The Moors were guided by a "renegade foreigner" named Pedro Valenciano, who had lived in Valldemossa for a number of years and knew all the lanes and ways even at night. The Moors entered the village. It was a curiosity that they didn't enter the Charterhouse. Otherwise, they went about sacking the place and rounded up 400 prisoners.

Gual was able to watch the Moors withdraw. Aware of their ships having moved to a new position and of guessing they would take a particular route, he "fired the hearts of his men", and there were by now 28, as the others had been dispersed to take up watch functions. Invoking the help of Sant Jordi (Saint George), they charged the Moors, took them by surprise, so that they started to flee in confusion. The men knew the rugged and difficult ways better than the Moors. Many were beheaded as they tried to get away.

There is more to it, but this gives something of an idea as to what supposedly happened on that day in 1552. And the events are now, like Pollensa and Soller, re-enacted. When introducing this simulation in 2014, it was decided that it should be on the first Saturday of October, just as the original was. So, the fiesta for the Moors and Christians is this coming Saturday. In addition to the battle, the programme has changed somewhat to as it was in 1952, when there were pipers, "globos grotescos" (bigheads of some type), a float parade, a Chopin concert and a verse contest between glosadors. Which just goes to show that current-day fiesta traditions, which struggled to be maintained for much of the Franco period, were observed.

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