IV International Molinology Conference, Mallorca


Report on the IV International Molinology Conference, Mallorca

After having run 3 previous Spanish national mills conferences, the Spanish mills organization ACEM (Asociacion para la Conservacion y Estudio de los Molinos) decided a couple of years ago to change their arrangements to make their future conferences international affairs.

Thus it was that I fetched up in Palma, Mallorca, at the IV International Molinology Conference, held from Thursday 1st May to Saturday 3rd May 2003, jointly hosted by the Friends of Windmills Association of Mallorca, and the Mallorcan council. The island of Mallorca is particularly rich in milling interest, with hundreds of flour windmills, thousands of water pumping mills, and again hundreds of both watermills and animal powered mills and devices.

The final conference programme, which I consulted online a few days before arrival, showed a preponderance of papers in Spanish, so it was with a little trepidation that I arrived at the conference centre, since my Spanish stretches as far as ordering beer, but no further. However my fears were unfounded since the (very comfortable) conference hall was equipped for simultaneous translation via radio headsets, and the organizers had arranged professional translators. In fact since Mallorca has its own language, even Spanish attendees needed translation for some papers presented in the local tongue.

Papers were variously presented in Italian, Spanish, Mallorcan, and English (plus a Romanian video as well). The translators did a very good job with unfamiliar technical vocabulary - though occasionally obvious mistranslations gave rise to interesting visual imagery, such as watermills driven from fountains, and groups of molinologists forming together into "mills organisms"!

The quality of the papers was varied, though many presenters made good use of the room's impressive technology, widely utilizing PowerPoint to good effect. Unfortunately the computer used to show the PowerPoint presentations was unfamiliar to the presenters, and a number were surprised to find that their presentations included sound effects - a feature that had not been apparent when they ran through on their own computers. Conversely, one presentation relied on a video insert, which was unable to run on the installed computer. The subjects covered were wideranging, and in no way limited to either Mallorcan, or even just Spanish mills.

As well as the papers, the Friday pre-lunch session was filled with visits to a number of Mallorcan mills. The first location was the Garleta windmill - one of the row of 5 mills in the Es Jonquet area overlooking Palma harbour. This mill has just completed being turned into a museum of milling, though it's not fully open yet, and was opened up especially for our visit. Although the Friends of Mallorcan mills had some technical involvement in the project, this was a collaborative effort with local and regional government departments, and has not been done as the true molinologist would like - a point that we as visitors soon picked up on. For example, the fabric of the mill has been pierced with new openings to let in more light, and non-traditional materials have been used - much concrete is in evidence, as well as bolts to hold together the wooden machinery, and plastic ropes to rig the sails. The museum exhibits themselves, in the vaulted building below the tower, include animated models, photos, and textual interpretation - though I'd question the wisdom of printing this using blue text on a blue background. Furthermore, (given the need to attract tourists to the museum), the lack of any German or English text means that the predominant sets of visitors to Mallorca will not get much out of this material.

Despite these criticisms, I hope the museum is a success - with its prominent position in the Island's capital, it can do much to advance interest in Mallorcan mills. After all is said and done, the restoration has produced a working mill - and it's fared better than its immediate neighbouring mill where, on an independant visit a couple of days earlier, on climbing the tower I discovered that it had had a motor installed to turn the sails!

The second visit was to the Island Council of Mallorca windmill restoration workshop. Here, FODESMA, the heritage department of the council, has the dual task of both preserving and restoring the mills, and also of training youngsters in the necessary skills. The workshop works on flour mills, and also with water pumping windmills. The main work area during our visit was given over to the reassembly of one of these large metal wind-engines, though there were also wooden framed canvas sails under construction as well. Around the compound were many recovered parts of water pumping mills, providing an excellent opportunity to view parts that are often inaccessible, high in the air, but unfortunately the translators were not around to translate some of the explanations we were given. Also in the piles of materials around the site I was shown a couple of blades from a horizontal waterwheel - although there are no year round rivers on the Island, the mountainous northern coast gives rise to many seasonal streams, which in past times drove many primitive horizontal waterwheels.

The final visit was to Can Reviu, near Palma airport, where there are 4 restored water-pumping windmills around a group of other restored buildings now used for educational purposes. One of the water-pumpers has been adapted so that it can also generate electricity, as part of a scheme to find a new use for the thousands of redundant wind-engines on the Island. This venue also provided the location for lunch, and being positioned just at the end of the runway there was the regular spectacle of planes coming in to land - cue lots of dramatic photos of planes flying low past windmills! (The construction of the airport itself with its runways destroyed hundreds if not thousands of windmills, and it's only recently that an effort has been made to restore mills in this area).

To sum up the conference in figures, roughly 35 papers were presented over 3 long working days, to 110 attendees from Spain, Germany, UK, Portugal, Italy, Denmark, Sweden and Romania. Attendees ranged from professional millwrights, through mill researchers and enthusiasts, to those such as tourist organizations where mills are just a small part of their remit. With few exceptions, attendees were dressed immaculately, a Mediterranean tradition I was unable to follow - having left my suit behind and packed mostly for the beach!

On a personal note, I would have liked to find out lots more about Mallorcan mills - I was unable to track down any published material whilst on the Island - a conference book stall (even an informal one) was a surprising omission from the otherwise excellent organization. Here's hoping that the conference minutes, to be published later, will provide a good addition to the literature.

The next conference is due to be in La Mancha - certainly an area of Spain famed for its mills, though the 100 windmills in that region is as nothing compared to the 5000+ mills of all types to be found on Mallorca.

And in case you wonder, my Spanish has been much improved by attending the conference - I now know to specifically order a large beer, rather than just a beer, to avoid being served just a tiny glassful!

A modified version of this article appears in the July 2003 edition of Mill News, the Journal of the SPAB Mills Section.


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