Mountain culture in the Soller Valley
Published in the Majorca Daily Bulletin
Tuesday 13th December 2016
Written by Shirley Roberts
Photographs by Rachel Fox
International Mountain Day was celebrated on Sunday 11thDecember and was a reminder that Sollerics are mountain people. The United Nations decided in 2003 that 11thDecember should be the special day to think about mountains. Each year they have a specific theme to do with the special culture associated with them. For 2016 the theme is Mountain Culture – celebrating diversity and strengthening identity.
Over 1 billion people worldwide live in mountain communities and this is a sustainable way of life for them. It is also a different way of living as inaccessibility and the ruggedness of the terrain do not usually find parallels with City life. That is, unless you live in a place like the Soller Valley.
The mountains of Majorca occupy enough of the island to have their own collective name – The Tramuntana. Each peak has its own name and identity but the mountain range as defined by Unesco is the Tramuntana. Since the Moors began the taming of the mountains centuries ago they have been part of the sustainable life of this island. The water courses they built enable every drop of rain that falls to be collected and used for the people. When Unesco gave this island the honour of being a world heritage site it was for the work between nature and man. Our mountains might be rugged and beautiful but that is not what makes them special in Unesco’s eyes.
The terracing of the mountains was a life of back breaking work for generations of mountain people in Majorca. The olive and almond trees planted on the terraces remain today as a testament to their fine vision and sheer hard work.
The Coll mountain divided the island prior to 1997 when the Soller tunnel was opened. The way in and out of Soller was to drive the mountain road of the Coll to head for Palma and the outside world. This was one of the many physical aspects that made the Soller Valley the ‘Island within an Island’ and created a fundamentally different place. As a place slightly cut off from the rest, individualism flourished and the first allegiance of a Solleric was to Soller or one of the villages of the mountains such as Fornalutx, Biniaraix or Deia. For many people to go over the mountain on a journey to Palma was one they never made and their whole life was centred right here.
The mountains that surround us here are used for farming, leisure and tourism. Sollerics love to walk their mountains and picnic in the wonderful barbeque centres that have been created in majestic beauty spots all over the magic route 221. This walking route is the much loved mountain path of the thousands of walkers who descend on us each year. In the heart of winter local people claim back as their own and camp in the lodges and Muletas in the mountains created for them. To wake up on the edge of the Cuber Reservoir, as the only people in the world, surrounded by the mountains is a unique experience that is available to all.
City life is on our doorstep in the Soller Valley. We may live in the mountains with their seasons dominating us but we can go through that tunnel and join the rest of the world in Palma and the other main towns of Majorca. We can also get to the airport within thirty minutes and fly wherever we like. The true mountain people of Soller would never have contemplated the opportunities available now. Except for balance that is not quite true. Soller history tells of thousands that had to leave the Valley for economic migration reasons. The majority left for France and the Spanish colonies on boats from the Port of Soller. They didn’t even cross the mountain then.
The Soller train deserves a mention here because it is the train that began the linked up lives between mountain and city life. Over a hundred years ago the fantastic engineering that allowed the train to climb the mountain was completed and daily journeys were a possibility. People began to work in Palma, children went to school there too and the world opened up just a little. The day trips to Soller on the train began and the little mountain city saw the beginning of the transformation to the place it is today.
As we have celebrated Mountain Day this year we applaud the sentiment and fully buy in to celebrating the diversity that mountain culture brings to our lives. The Soller Valley as the the centre for mountain culture (as defined by Unesco) is constantly looking for new ways to strengthen the identity and make sure that nothing of our rich history is lost. Come and see us in our mountain paradise soon – you are very welcome.