Salinas and the “white gold” story

salineros Ibiza
Salineros de Ibiza

Salinas is more than just a cool beach to go during the summer. Salinas has a long long story connected with the activity connected with the “sal” (salt)! Salt is one of the oldest spices in the world, the only one used by all cultures both in the kitchen and for food preservation. The activity of the salt in the Balearics dates back to the most ancient times: that of the Romans and the Phoenicians, who then extracted it along the Levantine coasts of Majorca.

The most important document concerning the production of salt is dated 1373, and reports the production of about 5000 tons per year of salt extracted from the salt pans of Ibiza. Starting from this document, traces of references to the production of salt have been found in thousands of other documents, dating back above all to the Middle Ages when salt (called white gold) was considered one of the most precious commodity.

Salineros de Ibiza

The exploitation of the ponds began in the times of Muslim Ibiza, but a concrete technical improvements of the ponds occurred after the Catalan reconquest, in the 13th century. At the very beginning, salt was obtained naturally, collecting it on the banks of the two large ponds that existed at the time. The water penetrated through a channel with the tides and then evaporated, accumulating the precious mineral directly on the ponds. After a while, Christians installed gates, created new ponds and improved shipping infrastructure (just to be sure to make the business bigger 😉 ).

The salt became the main source of the island’s economy (the word “salary” comes from the ancient pay of the workers of the salt pans), that has been exploited them until 1715, when the Crown began to administer them directly. In 1871 they were auctioned and acquired by the company Fábrica de Sales de Ibiza to end up, later in 1898, into the hands of the Mallorcan company (that still manages them today), Salinera Española.

The salt extraction is long and complex process that requires constant dedication: the sea water is extracted through a system of pumps and canals that goes directly towards the “thermal pools“, in which it the evaporation process begins by the direct action of the sun and the wind. Once the water reaches 8° of concentration, it passes to other tanks, where it remains until it reaches a concentration of about 20/22° (sea water has a salinity of about 3.5 degrees Baume (salinity scale) and that the salt does not crystallize unless it reaches 25 degrees). The last phase is the most complex, in which the condensed water passes into tanks with a clayey bottom, where the crystallization process begins. The salt workers work intensely from May to September, during the summer period: a reduced seasonality from which to extract the maximum profit. Once there were more than 1000 workers (and you that the famous “Sa Trinxa” beach was the refectory of the salinros?!?); at the moment only 20/25 persons work there…

sal de ibiza

The ponds are the largest wetland on the island, with an area of 400 hectares and are a great example of Mediterranean biodiversity. They are an amazing show, while passing trough them to reach the beach, that contains more than 170 species of plants and more than 200 different birds, including beloved pink flamingos, which currently spends in the ponds a lot of time. The color of the plumage is due to a crustacean that inhabits the most saline ponds, Artemia salina, that is the favorite food of these birds. Walking between the ponds let you get in touch with a unique ecosystem.

Looking from above, the various ponds have different colors, that goes from blue and green to deep pink. The color is related to the concentration of salt and the species that colonize the water. It’s an incredible view and a great show, in every season and with every light conditions. At sunset time…the salt looks like real, shiny, gold.