where the writers are
MALLORCA. Pirates, Torres & Smugglers.

The walking guide to the GR221 MALLORCA’S ‘DRY STONE WAY’ is now available. The guide includes a series of ‘gobbets’, mini-essays exploring different facets of the local culture and landscape. The one below was dropped for lack of space. I reproduce it here to give you a flavour of the book.

You only have to glance at a map to see that Mallorca, with its secluded coves, hidden caves, and strategic location is a pirate's fantasy come true, so it is no surprise to discover that the island's association with piracy dates back to the second century BC, when alleged complicity between the islanders and pirates provided a pretext for occupation by the Romans.

Being equidistant between Europe and North Africa, the Balearics were a great favourite with the Barbary pirates, some of whom were installed on Sa Dragonera for so long that the harbour is still called Cala Lladró (Bandits' Cove), while Mallorca itself was repeatedly sacked, most notably by Barbarossa in 1535 and Salih Reis in 1552. In fact, Barbarossa disembarked so regularly one might be forgiven for thinking he was coming here for his holidays.

For fairly obvious reasons, the raid remembered with most fondness by Mallorcans occurred in 1561, when the townsfolk of Sóller (Stage Five) repelled 2000 marauding corsairs in The Battle of the Brave Ladies, an event which, with admirable cultural sensitivity (you'd have thought they might have let it go by now), is celebrated to this day with a carefully staged re-enactment on the anniversary of the victory (May 11th), in which pretty much the entire town (babes included) dress up in traditional costume and march about giving the Moors a damn good hiding.

That victory notwithstanding, the Mallorcans were not so complacent as to suppose they could repel all invaders by fielding an army of brave ladies, and the island's main towns were generally built inland, with the port reduced to a readily abandoned satellite. Watchtowers or atalayas were constructed, too, and these remain a distinctive feature on Mallorca's headlands.

The atalayas were also employed in more recent conflicts between the authorities and sea going outlaws, when they were used by customs officials hoping to catch the twentieth century smugglers who brought tobacco in from North Africa. The contraband was transferred offshore from the main transport vessels into small fishing boats then landed in inaccessible coves before being lugged over the mountains.

The 'paths', if that's not too strong a word for them, used by the smugglers are known as passos, and often constitute little more than a few haphazard steps carved into what is, to all intents and purposes, a sheer rock face. Some of these passos, notably behind Deià (Stage Four) and in the vicinity of Escorça (Stage Seven), are used by adventurous Mallorcan walkers to this day. If you fancy tackling the more hair-raising passos, contact local walking guide jaume.tort@gmail.com

Not that smuggling was always so arduous or surreptitious. In his popular travelogue detailing a trip to the island in the 1920s, Jogging Round Majorca, Gordon West describes inadvertently offering his contraband cigarettes to a member of the Guardia Civil, who has a Nelson moment rather than see what's in front of him and be obliged to sully their friendship with the disagreeable business of law enforcement.

Apparently, the government tobacco monopoly was so unpopular that the Mallorcans preferred to buy smuggled cigarettes even when they were sold at the same price as those with duty paid. One enterprising fishermen regularly smuggled in several kilos of tobacco packed in the shells of large crabs until a customs officer realized this particular fisherman's crabs were remarkably inert, were always exactly the same size, and that the volume of the catch never varied.