Paisatge, landscape, is a word that crops up all the time in Mallorca. Politicians refer to it, as do businesses, environmentalists, artists and others. The landscape is something to be enjoyed and to be defended. Landscape is inherent to sustainability, and landscape is heritage, history and culture. But landscape has a deeper meaning, one that supersedes its physical existence, as landscape is Mallorca, so rooted is the almost spiritual reverence in which it is held and which thus inspires all the calls - from different sources - for its defence.
Landscape isn’t confined to the countryside, the mountains and the coasts, but allusion to it presupposes a natural rather than urban connotation. This natural landscape isn’t, however, without its artificiality. Quite obviously it isn’t. But human intervention is often what elevates landscape to ever greater heights of reverence - the intervention of farmers and of builders that has created its own natural history of Mallorca, one that is inextricably linked to a unified but at the same time diverse Mediterranean culture. Only in certain instances has, for example, Anglo-Saxon intervention intruded; the shaping of Albufera by the British engineers is a case in point.
From next Monday, the Council of Mallorca will be celebrating the Setmana del Paisatge. Landscape Week, from what one can gather, will only entail a series of discussions, presentations and workshops. Which all sounds somewhat sterile and probably will be, but one presentation will be of a book devoted to “rephotography” of the Tramuntana Mountains’ landscape, implying a then and now of the most iconic of all Majorca’s landscapes.
There will also be a session dedicated to the application of the European Landscape Convention and so also to the Mallorcan Landscape Strategy and the creation of the Landscape Observatory, an advisory body for coordinating actions that influence the landscape and improve, preserve and promote it.
A technical approach is therefore to be applied to something which on the face of it is purely natural but is at least partially the consequence of technical ability, which in the mediaeval era meant the passing of this ability down through generations and within cultures. Unesco didn’t declare the Tramuntana a World Heritage Site just because it is a range of mountains; the cultural interplay was the decisive aspect. This was the collision of that Mediterranean unity but diversity - predominantly Muslim and Christian which moulded the Tramuntana and gave the mountains a unique personality. It was a blend of dry-stone, hydraulics and plantation. The natural landscape of the Tramuntana is also a product of human ingenuity, labour and struggle.
Even the more recent interventions, some on a massive scale, have embellished this landscape. Twisting roads, finca estates, the railway, the Soller Tunnel, and above all the vast manmade lakes - the Cuber and Gorg Blau reservoirs - have all played their part in moulding this natural space through technology, but without losing sight of its natural essence and, yes, its spirituality. The mountains are Majorca’s most spiritual territory, courtesy of - in particular - Our Lady of Lluc and Ramon Llull’s Miramar. And through Llull, this spiritual and landscape combination spills out of the Tramuntana to an elevation on Majorca’s plain, the Puig de Randa in Algaida with the hermitage of Nostra Senyora de Cura and the cave where it is said that Llull had the enlightenment to eventually write his “art”, the “Ars Magna”, the scientific method by which no one could rationally argue in favour of any religion other than Christianity.
It was the landscape of the Tramuntana, as has been well-chronicled, which inspired the painters of the early years of the twentieth century to create what proved to be groundbreaking works in bringing the world’s attention to Mallorca. But the painters didn’t neglect the island’s whole landscape. The Argentine Francisco Bernareggi opened a workshop in the Tramuntana in 1903, but he was to discover very different landscape in the island’s southeast. In Santanyi he captured the “harmonies” in the water of Cala Figuera. And there was Joan O’Neille, a one-time secretary general of the Provincial Academy of Fine Arts, whose works with romantic traits were often simple in their execution and in their title. O’Neille once painted some countryside land. He called it “Paisatge”.
O’Neille was to say: “Not everyone who looks, sees. The ones who see are those who observe and meditate.”
See the Mallorcan landscape and meditate.
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