Torrent de Pareis/ Sa Calobra. | Andrew Ede

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In Mallorca, there is what one might suggest is an industry dedicated to toponymy, the study of place names. One says industry, but the productive value is limited. Scholars, who are paid to be scholars, contribute to island economic well-being insofar as they are remunerated for their toponymic endeavours.

Publishers may offer editions of a specialist nature but which require only short runs, such is the specialism, despite the apparently never-ending appeal in understanding how such or such a place came to be named as it now is. And ‘now’ can also provide some genuinely productive output if revision of the name itself entails a change - new signs, new maps.

Otherwise, this is an industry of debate, constant argument and discussion designed to unravel the mysteries of place names that have been influenced by sources over the centuries, millennia even, as pre-Roman times can be called upon for evidence. In many instances, explanations are comparatively straightforward and the ‘official’ toponym is generally accepted, even if this officialdom can itself still manage to get dissenters hot under the collar.

The University of the Balearic Islands is the keeper of the official names. Hence, for instance, and I’m sorry to have to inform the deniers, it is Palmanova and not Palma Nova. The university says so. There is likewise the argument about a place on the Manacor coast, which the university thought it had settled by pronouncing in favour of Portocristo - also one word. The Supreme Court in Madrid, believe it or not, was asked for its opinion and went for Porto Cristo. The university still lists Portocristo.

The courts don’t normally get involved in determining whether a place name is one or two words. And while it is quite interesting, a place name being one or two words isn’t exactly that important.
Of greater significance for the toponymy industry are those places that continue to confound and for which there is no definitive explanation. There may not be disagreement regarding the name itself, its spelling for instance, but there is plenty to do with the name’s origins. Which leads us, as have excursions on foot since the days of the early twentieth century when excursions on foot were popularised, to a part of the Tramuntana Mountains that is shrouded in mystery.

How did the Torrent de Pareis come to be known as the Torrent de Pareis?

The torrent element of the name doesn’t form part of the debate, as torrent is perfectly well understood - a watercourse that descends, in this instance, from the meeting of two other torrents (Gorg Blau and Lluc).

The mouth of this torrent is in Sa Calobra, between two cliffs that have contributed to making the torrent one of the most spectacular sights in the whole of Mallorca. The beautiful view, especially from the sea, may help to explain why the torrent is called Paradise.

Even with zero appreciation of Catalan, does Pareis suggest Paradise to you? If it does, then you wouldn’t be wrong, according to one of the hypotheses. Without delving too deeply into the language, a view is that Pareis was once Paraís and that one can go way back to the early days of Catalan in Mallorca (in the thirteenth century) to find evidence of Paraís having been a popular alternative to Paradís.

Ramon Llull, back in those days, apparently used both forms, one with a ‘d’, the other without.
Another explanation is that Pareis is a corruption of ‘parells’, meaning pairs and specifically the pair of cliffs. Alternatively, this could come from the pair of torrents (Gorg Blau and Lluc), while there is also an argument that the name is derived from ‘paret’, to mean wall - the cliffs are the walls.

The Paradise hypothesis is clearly the most romantic, and so in pressing its case, research has led to a conclusion that this was a term used by sailors. A safe haven was like paradise. A further theory has it that Paradise was an ironic name, an antiphrastic word to represent the opposite, i.e. Hell. If so, then this does rather contradict the safe haven idea, a place where ships found their greatest safety, protection from accidents because of rough seas and high winds. This is in fact a common meaning in several Mediterranean languages.

One writer on this subject has said that he is inclined to believe that “the one who gave it the name was more aware of it as a blessed place ... who, when the sun penetrated the delicate vegetation that hangs from the rocks, could hardly avoid having had the feeling of being in a lovely place - in an unrepeatable fairy tale setting”.

Josep Estelrich Costa, a Mallorcan priest and historian, was one of those who made excursions on foot to the Torrent de Pareis. He wrote: “All of it is a huge monument, barely touched by human hands. An enclosure with an inaccessible wall, crowned by rugged battlements and protected by the ditches of the gorges ... It is a unique and mythical route ... for indulging in the light and landscape.” And he recalled a popular verse about Sa Calobra - “Sa Calobra is a garden wrapped in rocks, shaded by fruit trees and scented by geranium.”

Painters and poets have been enchanted by the torrent and by Sa Calobra since the start of the last century, and it was one painter - Josep Coll Bardolet - who decided that this would be the perfect setting for a concert. A place called Paradise. Possibly.