Los Molinos

 

 

 

 

 

Mallorca’s

neglected

‘Green’

option

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maps…

 

…are a rare bone of contention between my partner and I. My view is that you check them once to find out where you want to go and again to find out why you missed it, Bryony’s is to follow the slender lines with a finger while we hurtle along them. Perhaps this is her excuse for not looking out of the window while I’m driving.
On this occasion we have been lent an old map of Mallorca by a relative (Hildebrand’s Travelmap, an old and, I think, defunct German publication in English and Deutsch) and for once, something catches my eye as I’m looking for the next place to hurtle towards. Dotted around the plain of Sa Pobla and Muro are dozens of  tiny windmill symbols. Prior to my visit I’d had little affinity with windmills other than that, like myself, they appear to be relatively simple mechanisms.
A short hurtle later we park the car on a dirt side-track just off the main road outside Sa Pobla and get out to walk...

 

 

…I am stunned to silence. Even the simulated shutter-click on the borrowed camera feels like an intrusion…

 

 

…Around me, the remains of Mallorca’s Molinos de Viento rear stark against an October sky. A brisk wind raises tiny dust-devils from the fine ochre soil as I walk. A dog barks from behind the fence of a kitchen garden adjacent to a house built against a redundant tower. In the middle distance a farmer putters between his tilled rows on a miniature red tractor, trailer bulging with new potatoes under a smattering of sackcloth. Above him the remnants of a ‘greener’ past compete for the skyline with the pylons and high tension wires that have replaced them…

 

 

…I walk on, respectfully entering the domain of these monumental relics for whom the falling sunset seems entirely appropriate. Along the pathways separating the perfect geometry of fields I feel exposed and alone beneath a panoramic breadth of sky. I experience the insistent tug of the wind, and an unshakeable sensation of witnessing the fall of dinosaurs.

 

Standing beneath a ruined Molino, I hear the air whistle through the broken, 30ft. sails, feel the creak as the shifting airstream attempts to swing the huge, skeletal frame around on long-neglected bearings. Below the stone towers on which it sits, the plumber I once was senses the long shaft reaching down through the soil, striving to power a rotating pump that had broached the surface with water from the artesian table since 1880.

 

 

 

Encompassed on three sides by high Sierras, the plain that surrounds the towns of Sa Pobla and Muro is exposed to the North East wind from the sea, a once reliable enough source of free power to provide water all year round for the crops that spice the soil with foliage, spilling green across the ochre furrows and transforming the shape and colour of the land. This richly fertile earth derives from the draining of La Albufera marshes by the British engineers, Bateman and Greene; but now, for the most part, the soil is irrigated in a less environmentally-friendly manner by diesel-engined or electrically driven pumps and piped water supplies.

 

 

Although windmills were first documented on the island as early as 1229, these later Molinos were introduced into the landscape between 1845 and 1850 by a Dutch engineer named Bouvij, to assist in the drying out of low lying areas of the Pla de Sant Jordi near Palma. The idea of the Molino rapidly caught on and spread across Mallorca to wherever it was possible to tap the hidden water source beneath the soil.

This simple machine, drawing on free energy, reached the plain of Sa Pobla and Muro by 1860, resulting in the construction of 480 mills in this area alone, yet still only representing 19% of the total for the island.
The early Molinos were known as ‘Ramell’, which I am assured means ‘Flower’ in the indigenous language of the island, and so they must have seemed, raising their heads almost everywhere in sight. Curiously, ‘Ramell’ translates to ‘low quality timber, or brushwood’ in English, which has rapidly become the third language of Mallorca, after Spanish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Significantly, the early Molinos were solely constructed from the poor source of wood available on the island. These required constant maintenance of the slatted sails fixed to the central ‘Estrella’, or Star-wheel, and are distinguishable by the angular, spider-web frame of the rotor.

 

The Molinos around Sa Pobla are much larger than those established on the other plains. There is evidence that new potatoes from this area were traded widely beyond the Mediterranean, to mainland Europe and England, the ships returning with an improved supply of English timber from which longer, sturdier blades could be fashioned. Also, the water table in Sa Pobla is lower than in the other plains, requiring the extra lifting power that a larger rotor would provide.

 

Later developments introduced an iron ‘hooped’ rotor, with curved metal blades to capture the slightest breath of air. Some of these remain in working condition today.

 

The descriptive terms for the types of rotating wheels (ramelle, palas or velas) translate imaginatively into ‘Flowers’, ‘Blades’ and ‘Candles’, yet despite the inherent romanticism of their names, many now remain as stark, derelict reminders that expensive, centrally-generated electricity has become an easy option.

 

Will this scene of overwhelming decay become the future for our own ‘on/off-shore’ wind-farms? Or will Mallorca see these cheap, non-polluting sources of energy raised up once more into a brisk, revolutionary October sky? Who indeed can be certain, yet there is hope. Since 1993, forty-five of these Grande Molinos de Viento, (40 artesian water pumps, 5 flour mills) are being lovingly restored thanks to grants by the Mallorcan Government. I can only congratulate them on their vision…

 

To view more images of Los Molinos de Mallorca, please click here...

 

 

 

 

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