A story behind the scenes of the Port of Soller

Written by Shirley Roberts
Published in the Majorca Daily Bulletin
on Tuesday 11th July 2017

Photograph by Gary Lloyd Rees
I have a fascination in unravelling the past and creating it in the context of 2017. To research and read the stories of the history of the Soller Valley is a hobby and I am always discovering something new and wonderful. I am very conscious that to romanticise the past is a mistake and I fully appreciate the sheer hard work of those that has gone before to create what we live in today.  History is only yesterday and that is my focus today.  In Soller we tell past tales of economic migration that took people away to France and to the Americas – particularly Puerto Rico. The more recent history, particularly of the Port of Soller does not often get an airing and yet it is so significant to the superiority of the Soller Valley as an area, that today I am going to tell the tale.

The Soller Valley is ‘an island within and island’ and this is a condition born of geography and mindset.  In the past the journey out of the valley for trade and work was over the Coll mountain. The Soller tunnel did not exist until twenty years ago and the train was a life saver but not particularly efficient for trade. The development of trade routes by sea from the Port of Soller changed the focus of the Solleric and he looked out to sea to France. This was the route and beyond to take the silks, cottons, shoes, oranges, almonds, soaps and many other Soller manufactured goods to. The French connection created another language in the Valley where French is spoken as much as Spanish.
The Solleric mindset was self-contained within the island of Majorca and expansive enough to include the rest of Europe as its partners.  This was a very unusual state of affairs for a small place and allowed Soller to become ahead of its time in having the cash for Art, Music, Education and Culture in all its forms. This is the Soller that existed before the Navy arrived on 14thApril 1937.
The strategic location of the Port of Soller had always been well known.  Its geography in the middle of the north coast of the island was a life saver as it was (and still is) the only safe harbour that sailors can head for when a storm breaks out on our side of the island. The Port of Soller was declared a Military installation in 1937 and the naval base designated for submarine activity and installations.
The naval destroyer Admiral Miranda was based in the Port plus 1000 marines.  The Port of Soller was alive with activity and people and the military base grew in importance and dominance of the area.
What this meant for the people of the Port of Soller was division.  Local families resented the acquisition of streets, houses, buildings and parks for military purposes.  They also loved the jobs and money that it brought into the area.  Those with strong political views were discouraged from speaking and it was an altogether difficult period.  Love got in the way and caused more divisions as local girls fell in love with their sailor boys and loved the excitement of the social life that came from the Port of Soller. This era in local life had its hey day from 1940 to 1970 and the place was buzzing.  The crisp white uniforms of the sailors were everywhere and they spent their money in the Valley and were welcomed by bar and shop owners.
Life changed as the 1980’s ushered in Nato and a redistribution round the Med of strategic locations.  The sailors began to be relocated and the Port of Soller went into a decline as the buildings were left and the status left unresolved.  In 1992 the City of Soller asked for all its buildings and land back.  This took some time to sort but in 1998 the Ministry of Defense gave 25,000 sq. metres of the military station back to the City for public use.
The Navy kept one of their buildings in the Port of Soller which, to this day is a holiday residence for the military and marine armies of NATO.  Uniforms are still worn on special occasions and glittering occasions still happen to remind everyone of the past.
On Saturday 15th July the Port of Soller celebrates the fiesta of Mare De Deu Del Carmen.   Flares are placed in the sand of the beaches of our perfect horseshoe bay.  The lights of the Port go out at 10 pm and the flares are lit ushering in, by sea the statue of Carmen who is the Saint of all who have anything to do with the sea.  In the past, each one of those flares. would have had a sailor positioned behind it dressed in full dress uniform. It was a glorious sight and very moving.

The sailors have gone and the era has passed instead we have yachties and boat people of all descriptions and they are very welcome here. History moves along a day at a time and makes us understand a little of what is important to the people we live amongst. 

Leave a Reply