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Costa de Canyamel and Caves of Artà

costa de canyamel and caves or arta mallorcaA small castle sits astride the old road between Artà and Cala Canyamel and it has stood guard over Canyamel valley (Canyamel is Catalan for sugar cane) for centuries. The original tower was much smaller tower and was possibly built by the Moors. Following the conquest of the island in 1229, the area was known as Garbailen Valley (or Garbellí which translates as the Screened Valley) and it was given to Pere de Montsó. Montsó or Monzon was an important town in Jaime the Conqueror's kingdom and the castle was the headquarters for the Knights Templar; Jaime had grown up under their guard in the castle.

Pere de Montsó built a three story defensive tower in the centre of his lands between 1237 and 1251 as the third corner of the defensive triangle with Capdepera Castle and Artà Almudaina. There were concerns that the Moors might try and retake the Balearic Islands and the island's harbours and bays were particularly vulnerable. Montsó positioned the tower so that his lookout could warn Artá and alert his garrison if suspicious ships landed in Cala Ratjada.

costa de canyamel and caves or arta mallorcaThe large square tower has three levels, and while the lower lever has three large storage rooms, the second level has smaller living areas and the top level has an observation terrace and tower. It has arrow slits and crenulations and may have had a moat and drawbridge. Barracks and stables created an enclosed square around the tower and while the new road bypasses the complex, the old road ran through it, making it an ideal place to collect taxes.

Pere' sons inherited the castle but when Guillem became engaged in Jaime II's court he sold parts of his Artá lands and moved to Palma. The Montsó family had to hand the tower over to Roman Blanquer garrison in 1306 and although Guillem kept the building he was not allowed to profit from it. This may have been one of the many confiscations of Knights Templar territory that went on during this period.

costa de canyamel and caves or arta mallorcaBad luck seemed to plague the tower and after Guillem died, the Blanquers were bankrupted and the tower fell into disrepair. It was sold by public auction and while the new owner was obliged to keep a lookout on duty, domestic buildings were added to the complex. When King John II announced concessions for sugar cane in 1468, the owners turned their lands into plantation and both the tower and the valley acquired the name Canyamel. They too failed and by the end of the 15th Century the tower had fallen into disrepair.

The Villalonga family took over around 1500 and they turned the tower and lands over to tenant farmers. This time wheat was planted and Canyamel valley became famous for its harvests. One downstairs room was converted into a kitchen and dining room; a second was a mill and dairy room while the third was used for storing farm tools. The day workers slept in the upstairs rooms next to the grain sacks.

costa de canyamel and caves or arta mallorcaThere were many pirate attacks against Mallorca in the 16th Century but the beaches were too shallow and the cliffs were too steep to make a landing around Cala Canyamel. Smaller watchtowers were built along the coast and you can see a couple on the ridges surrounding the valley. As soon as a watchtower noticed ships it would relay a warning to Canyamel Tower which in turn alerted Artá.

The Villalonga family were ruined by economic changes and falling wheat prices in the second half of the 19th Century and Font dels Ors family took over in 1882. The family started the restoration in the 1960s, turning it into the tower we see today.

There are displays covering the history and construction of the tower on the ground floor and a short film on the pirate raids. There are displays about farming life on the second floor but it is the panoramic views from the rooftop terrace which make the climb to the top worthwhile. It is clear how Canyamel tower dominated the road from Artá to the port for several centuries.

costa de canyamel and caves or arta mallorcaCaves of Artà

The Artá Caves are located on Cap Vermell and visiting information can be found at http://www.cuevasdearta.com/ . There are tours in Spanish, French, English and German and takes up to 40 minutes. While you wait for your particular guide, consider the following story which dates from just after the Conquest.

The Caves was a stronghold of the Moors following the Conquest in 1229. It had been discovered when a scout chased a Moor out foraging only to be met by a group of around 50 armed men guarding their hidden camp. Back then there was only a narrow path to the cave and King Jaime returned a few weeks later and while he planned to attack head on, his great uncle Nuño Sanç warned him against doing so; they needed a cunning plan.

Scouts had noticed that the Moors had built shelters under the large overhand and after planning to rock rocks off the top, the Master of the Knights Templar had a better idea. They tied mules together and lowered a man over the cliff edge with a pan filled with lit kindling wood. When he was just above the huts and dropped the burning kindling onto the thatch roofs, setting them on fire. The flames quickly but Moors refused to surrender. They made it clear they were expecting reinforcements and planned to wait for them. Jaime believed they were bluffing and he was right. A week later they agreed to surrender and they filed out of the caves with dozens of cows and sheep, leaving large stocks of wheat and barley behind.

You enter through the small entrance which leads into the huge Vestibule or Entrance Hall where there are a myriad of stalactites and stalagmite covering every surface. The highest is the Queen of the Columns which stretches from floor to ceiling, 22 metres (over 60 feet). We then enter the Chamber of Hell where a short light and sound show illuminate the intricate rock formations. Passing through the Chamber of Purgatory, Chamber of the Theatre and Chamber of the Organ into the Chamber of Flags, named after the flag shaped stalagmites hanging from the ceiling. Here three columns make a different sound when the guide taps them. There are more rock formations with names such as The Elephant and the Diamond Stones but the best view is left until the end as you walk out into the open and see the spectacular view over Canyamel Bay.

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