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Taulas, talaiots and troglodytes

Menorca is only 30kms long and 10km wide, but is so littered with prehistoric poblats (villages) strewn with vast monuments that from almost any point on the island it is possible to see one lurking on the horizon. True! We had promised the kids a 'beach' holiday, but as it was, we still managed to see 23 ancient lovelies, clocking up more than 715 kms as well as all picking up a marvellous skin tone, thanks to a deserted beach at Binidali.

I was particularly enamoured by the impressive simple beauty of the taula monuments – the great T shaped structures unique to this island. In fact, I believe we saw ALL the complete taulas still standing, as well as some that are destroyed or badly damaged.

28 May

We couldn't get into our villa until later in the day, so as we picked up our hire car, we decided to see as many sites as possible on the first day.

Biniparraxtet (see page 301 of TME) is actually at the airport. It was moved from its original site to make way for a runway extension and has been lovingly restored.

Its cupboards, chambers, kennels and water storage features reminded Moth and I of Skara Brae. Although my son Rupert claims to find big old rocks 'boring', so many has he now seen that he was able to read this monument's features without even having to look at the information board.

At the other end of the island lies the wonderful Cala Morrell caves complex (see pages 302 and 303 of TME). Plenty to excite the most bored of 11-year-old boys here!

Dozens of spacious rock cut chambers line a limestone ravine apparently used originally as tombs and maybe later as dwellings.

The craftsmanship involved in cutting the rock was extraordinary. Internal pillars, decorated doorways (similar to those I saw in Turkey and Cyprus) and raised platforms vied for our attention with drainage systems, water storage features and sockets for carpentry.

Naveta d'es Tudons (see pages 304 and 305 of TME) is just off the main road at the western end of the island and judging by the huge car park with spaces for buses, frequently visited by coach parties.

Fortunately, we had it pretty much to ourselves. 'Naveta' means 'boat' and some archaeologist has interpreted the large burial chambers on the island as boat-shaped and given them this name. I can't see it myself. They are more burial chamber-shaped to my mind. Anyway, d'es Tudons has been restored according to this boat theory so you have to visit this one with a pinch of salt.

It is an impressive pyramidal type structure and beautifully cool inside its double-decker chamber. We liked it a lot, despite it being a bit overly restored.

Not far from Naveta d'es Tudons is the poblat of Torre Trencada (see pages 323, 324 and 325 of TME) which was the first Menorcan prehistoric talaiotic settlement I had seen and my first taula. (We were to see many more!)

At Torre Trencada, as at most other bronze age poblats, you get your usual shopping list of:
- a talaiot (tower) or two which dominates the site, rather like a watchtower or uninhabitable broch
- some wrecked houses
- a wall surrounding the settlement
- a cave, usually enhanced megalithically in some way
- some kind of water storage feature, well or cistern
- a taula sanctuary, the ritual heart of the site
Torre Trencada is delightfully unrestored with shady olive trees growing up through the stones.

It was rough, unkempt and a haven for birds and butterflies. Rupert also saw a snake. We wished we'd had some food as someone had built a rather lovely megalithic picnic table in the shade of some olives.

As this was my first taula monument I was deeply impressed, although I would later discover the sanctuary it once stood in was pretty much gone entirely, leaving only the great T behind.

As the evening cooled off, we took the car down the long dusty track down to Calascoves, (see page 306 of TME) a bucolic rocky inlet of turquoise waters not far from where we were staying.

Carved into the rock faces in the cliffs, overlooking the crystal sea, are dozens and dozens of caves, probably hewn initially from existing fissures and naturally occurring caves and enhanced for tomb purposes. Some are up at quite a dizzying height. Made me wonder how the hell the masons got up there to do their work. The sea was alive with fish and crabs and things, boding well for future snorkelling.

29 May

After a day snorkelling at Binidali beach we took an early evening excursion out to see two mind-blowing sites.
Trepuco (see pages 326 and 327 of TME) poblat lies on the southern outskirts of Mahón, Menorca's capital where mayonnaise may have been invented in 1756 to commemorate a victory over the English who were holding a castle in Mahón - hence 'mahonnaise'.... I digress.

The site at Trepuco is dominated by two gargantuan monuments – the mammoth talaiot tower and most sublime taula sanctuary. The talaiot was probably the biggest I saw on the island, about 8 metres tall and at least 12 metres in diameter, possibly more. I was a bit spooked when Moth started climbing it, but he took it slowly and was rewarded with great views. But the taula captivated me completely.

Glowing yellow in the evening sunlight and thin like rice paper, the great stone is carved on the front as if Canadian cheddar cut with a serrated knife. On top of this impossibly thin slab of something you'd put in yer butty, a bloody great grey horned block is somehow held aloft. I was in awe.

I should also mention the setting of this ancient cheesy wonder as it follows an approximate pattern of most taula sanctuaries.

The T stone usually stands roughly centrally in a horseshoe-shaped enclosed wall, built using giant stones. Many of these are tall pillars which appear to mark out chambers or spaces. The front, or approach end, always the only way in, is usually a very shallow concave forecourt with a clear entry point. Whatever happened in these ritual places, they were not public affairs. The space is intimate and the walls originally too tall to see over. These taula sanctuaries usually stand within just a few metres of a talaiot. And from the top of most talaiots you can see El Toro, Menorca's centrally-placed sacred hill (now hijacked by Jesus, his mum and some nuns.)

All this is the case at Trepuco. We stayed here for some time so I could make some studies.

From Trepuco we drove the 4kms or so to Talati de Dalt, another poblat quite close to the airport.

Talati de Dalt has all the usual poblat features, caves, talaiot, cisterns, houses, etc. The houses here were really excellent with lots of rock cut details. This time, VERY Skara Brae. We climbed the talaiot and watched the planes come and go.

It was alive with birds here too; tons of finches, swifts, swallows and hoopoes. I found this site very, very peaceful, and sat and made a study of the taula which has its very own flying buttress.

30 May

We wanted to try a beach over to the south west of the island, so en route we called in Son Catlar poblat (see pages 310 and 311 of TME).

Extensive and impressive though this complex is, it failed to light my fire in any way whatsoever. Rupert summed it up in his diary. He wrote: '… a huge prehistoric village but it looked like a big pile of rocks, the only good thing was the wall, and even that was boring...'

We found a lovely beach not far from Son Catlar called Bella Vista, but as I got into the water I saw that it was teeming with small jellyfish. I promptly got stung. Not wanting to same to happen to Rupert, we got out and drove to another beach, Maccaretta, which was lined with rock cut caves just like those at Calacoves. Fewer jellyfish here, too.

After a few hours, the weather turned a bit iffy – very windy, grey and even drizzle - so we moved on, calling in at Torre Llafuda (see page 319 of TME) on the way back to the villa. Another delightful poblat, where the taula sanctuary which was hidden in a dip beneath some trees had two small but complete taulas still up. (Though one of them was supported by an ugly pillar of rubble.)

It was here we saw an Egyptian vulture. Identifying it was a nightmare. It looked - by turns - like an eagle… or perhaps a gannet? a hooded crow? No! Definitely an Egyptian vulture. Lovely stuff.

More Menorcan magic here...

Jane Posted by Jane
7th June 2005ce
Edited 24th November 2005ce

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