Monday, 27 April 2009

The Riu Rau and the Reindeer Farm

The riu rau was a rectangular building with arches to allow quick access to a sheltered area for grapes which were laid outside in the sun on canes to dry. Drying the grapes of course was part of the process of making raisins. At night to protect the drying grapes from dew the grapes were lifted under the riu rau. And the open arches made it easy to do this rapidly if it rained during the day.

The photo shows a modern version of the riu rau. It is part of a small market garden surrounded by vines near the village where I live. The rows of grotesque shapes on the higher and lower levels (terraces) in front of the riu rau are the vines at the time of writing in mid-April. This little vineyard is probably kept for the owner's enjoyment of the tradition rather than any profit. The roof of his house behind the riu rau can be seen in the photo as well as the garage with the blue door to the right.

The riu rau structure originated in the late 18th or early 19th century. There are not many to be seen now as this form of agriculture is no longer profitable here on the Costa Blanca. Apparently there are no taxes on using an old riu rau as part of a modernised building: an incentive to keep the attractive shape as a feature of the landscape. Fortunately this pleasing form has also been used by some local builders for modern houses like Casa Kaduna (below) and other houses nearby.

The photo above shows the riu rau effect adapted to a modern house.

Although raisins are no longer a local product the grapes certainly are. The photo below shows a vine in Spring with the new growth sprouting from the knarled wood. If you have seen a French vineyard you will note a remarkable difference here in Spain in the way the grapes are grown. They are much closer to the ground; the parent vines are kept low and the new growth is not given a supporting structure for the new growth to spread along.

Flora, my wife, once told the grandchildren that there were reindeer farms all around us. You can see what she means when in autumn and winter after the grapes and the new vine growth have been removed then the rows of Spanish vines look like antlers pushing through the ground!
Each spring the countryside around our village looks as in this last photo with the dark wood of the lines of vines, the dark green of the olive trees, and the pink or white blossom of the almonds.
Bibliography: Vicente Torres at

Vicente García Morant and Juan Bta. Padros Martínez 'Historia del Poble Nou de Benitachell', 1976

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The Cliff Fishermen

They fished from these cliffs mainly at night and perhaps after a day's work. Any recess in the cliff might provide a place. Sometimes a platform was made from the cane which grew in groves inland. This frail structure was suspended on ropes from stanchions hammered into the rock and hung down on the cliff face above the water.

The fish, octupi, squid, etc provided food for the family or for sale in the village in the early morning when the fishermen returned home in daylight.

The photos show the view north towards Xábia from the cliff top above Cala de Moraig, the Benitatxell beach. The second photo with a zoom setting shows better the possible ledges and slight cavities in the rock where the fishermen could lodge themselves. The whole coastline from south of Denia to Calpe has cliffs like this. Until the warm Mediterranean climate brought tourism, and outsiders came to buy houses and live here, the life for the local Valencians was one of hard work in the orchards producing oranges, olives, and almonds. The cliffside fishing went on until work in construction and tourism created alternative more financially rewarding work.

The cliff sites became the property of the men who used them, and names were given to the position. They were passed on like other property to succeeding generations. The fishermen must have had a rough time just getting to the coast. The sea is a long walk indeed from the village of Benitatxell, and starts with a long, steep climb, high enough to provide a wonderful view looking down on Calpe, more than 15 kilometres away. Presumably for most of last century and earlier donkeys would be used. The descent to a position on the cliff would be no easy task, either. The road down the cliff to Cala Moraig (Benitatxell beach) was made only in the late 1980s. Needless to say over the centuries there must have been many night fishermen who fell from the cliffside eyrie into the sea. From the 1960s it became less and less necessary to fish from these dangerous sites, and nobody does it now.
is a vivid website showing how the men made their fishing sites on and in the cliffside. And there are more photos of the cliffs from viewpoints (miradores) on the Xábia coastline and southward towards Moraira including one of Cala Moraig at the following site:

A reference source reporting what must have been personally dangerous research work is a book in Valenciano: Nits i peixos a les pesqueres de cingle by Anotoni Barber i Vallés, Ismael Guardiola i Mora and Miquel Almenara i Sebastiá. (The title is difficult to translate: Night Vigils at the Cliff Fishing Points is my version) There is much more detail in this book than the website which has the same research source. Some of the photos in the book are from boats, and from positions actually on the cliffside. All of this makes it easier to understand the perilous route to these positions and the dangers of working from them. Candles and scary-looking ropes with rusty pitons were involved.

I am grateful to the researchers mentioned above for the information I have used here and also wish to thank Vicent Javier Monfort, his father and family whose interest in the subject of the cliff fishermen first made me aware of it; and for allowing me to consult his copy of the book referred to.