Javier Pérez Arévalo (left) at the Portopí lighthouse. | Teresa Ayuga


Juan Manuel Molinete Riego and Javier Pérez Arévalo are the last two active lighthouse keepers in Mallorca. Aged 69, Juan Manuel is already partially retired. When he turns 70, he will take full retirement. Unless something unexpected happens, Javier will be the very last of the island's lighthouse keepers, and he will be retiring in five years' time.

Javier became a keeper in 1989. A philosophy graduate, he has long been a student of lighthouses; he wrote a doctoral thesis on the subject. For over thirty years, he was the keeper of the La Mola lighthouse in Formentera. For the past few months, he has been at the Punta Avançada lighthouse on the Formentor peninsula, the last inhabited lighthouse in Mallorca, and where Juan Manuel and his family have lived for more than three decades. Javier is in fact in charge of the maintenance and repair of all the lighthouses in Mallorca, and so most days he travels along the coast to one of them.

"There are 17 lighthouses in Mallorca, considering that a lighthouse has a maritime signal of ten or more nautical miles. Some are in sensitive places, such as Dragonera, Puerto Soller and Punta Avançada." Contrary to what many people may think, Javier is of the view that the extinction of his profession is not so much due to automation but to a political decision taken in 1992 by the then national minister of public works, Josep Borrell. The Ports and Merchant Marine Law set in motion the extinction of lighthouse keepers, more grandly known as technicians of maritime signals.

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He explains that automation started in the 1920s. "The first lighthouse in Spain to be automated was in 1920; the first in the Balearics was in 1929 - the Faro dels Penjats. The first were the ones that were in the most remote places, basically islets, where life was very hard." Penjats, off Ibiza, was an example.

The automation process was halted by the Civil War. It didn't restart in the Balearics until Alcanada was automated in 1960. At La Mola, where he lived for so long, "I would go up to the viewpoint each day and check the signals". "If there was a problem, I would notify the Maritime Safety Agency by phone - with one of the first mobile phones; they were enormous."

Remote monitoring came in towards the end of the '90s. "They are now all monitored. I manage the alarms. If there is a serious fault, I check it and, if necessary, a remote-controlled beacon is activated. The extinction of the profession is possible thanks to the fact that it is no longer necessary to have a lighthouse keeper, but in the end it was a political decision by Borrell."

As keepers have retired, their positions have not been filled. But he, the student of lighthouses as he is, has also been active in ensuring that the history is not forgotten. He spent seventeen years in helping to create the lighthouse museum in Portopí, Palma. Passionate about lighthouses, he invites the public to visit the museum. The hours are from 10am to 3pm and from 5pm to 7pm Monday to Saturday. It is necessary to make a prior reservation via the Balearic Ports Authority's website.