Donkey research in Benidorm

I went on a rare expedition to Benidorm this Sunday morning. It is only ten minutes away by car but I very seldom visit the town. What motivated me to go there was an old photograph of a donkey. To be more precise, a noria with a working donkey.

The noria and donkey on the road out of Benidorm towards Valencia. Early photograph by the celebrated Benidorm photographer "Quico". Late 1950s

The noria and donkey on the road out of Benidorm towards Valencia. Late 1950s

It was an early study by photographer “Quico”, the man who would later become a celebrated record keeper of Benidorm’s rapidly changing skyline as the town developed in the 1960s and 1970s and became a by-word for mass tourism and package holidays.

The noria is an example of Islamic technology introduced into Spain during their 700-year long domination of the peninsula. There were still many working norias in the 1960s and 1970s in Spain, but they are now gone altogether. My friend Paco Amillo – historian and retired Head of the Benidorm Instituto – has done some excellent research on the history of the water systems in the locality and the following illustration is from his superb blog post last year on the aquifers of the Marina Baja, which led to my own interest in the local water supply and Paco’s help with collaborative teaching in my Geography lessons.

Traditional way of drawing water from aquiferous rocks using animals: these wells were known as norias, introduced in the Islamic age. This water was used mainly for crop irrigation. (Drawing by Rafael Ferrando)

Traditional way of drawing water from aquiferous rocks using animals: These equine-powered wells were known as norias, introduced in the Islamic age. This water was used above all for crop irrigation. (Drawing by Rafael Ferrando)

This location of this particular noria in Benidorm can be identified by the topography: there is a road bridge above a barranco or water gully. The alignment of the Valencia road is clearly shown, in the direction of the Plaza de Alameda and the church of San Jaime, shortly before the road turns right towards Alicante. (This road is now a four lane highway out of town, the N332.) Here is the animal in close up: it is clearly a donkey, not a mule. Both were used to power the norias.

DSC_5013

I calculated the spot carefully and it is now on the Via Emilio Ortuño, as confirmed by a very helpful senior citizen of Benidorm who happened to be passing. I stopped him and asked if he knew whether the noria was in this spot, and his response was immediate: “¡Si, exactamente aqui! This is what it looks like today:

This once was the abode of a working donkey.  The alignment of the road and the barranco below (now in a water pipe and asphalted over) can be clearly seen.

This once was the abode of a working donkey. The alignment of the road and the barranco below (now in a water pipe and asphalted over) can be clearly seen.

I suppose some people wondered why “the tourist” was taking a photograph of such an unappealing urban mess, with a smile of pleasure on his face. In fact I was no longer in that place but happy to be momentarily transported to the 1960s when I watched the donkeys and mules drawing water at the many norias that were still functioning on the island of Ibiza where I lived at that time. I said my farewell to the vanished donkey in the grainy photo and headed towards San Jaime in Benidorm old town for Sunday Mass. On the way to San Jaime I paused to take a photo and observe the differences between a 1949 photo of Calle Alameda and the present day.

Calle Alameda circa 1945. San Jaime parish church at top of the hill

Calle Alameda circa 1945. San Jaime parish church at top of the hill

This is the same place, but now the typical blue glazed Valenciano dome of San Jaime has disappeared from view.

This is the same place, but now the typical blue glazed Valenciano dome of San Jaime has disappeared from view.

Enough of reminiscing about donkeys in the 1950s and 1960s… It is time for the ten o’clock Mass in San Jaime, and that is where my rare morning in Benidorm finally led me.

Parroquia de S. Jaume y Sta. Ana, Benidorm

Parroquia de S. Jaime y Sta. Ana, Benidorm


20140511_103456
20140511_141540[1]

I was surprised to see that in the Catholic Church in Benidorm this Sunday is known as the “4th Sunday of Eastern”. Clearly they treasure their Islamic past here, with the site of a donkey noria so close by.

Addendum 11/05/14

Thank you to Paco Amillo for the following photo which he has just sent me, showing the site of the former noria after the building developments of Benidorm wiped out the view of San Jaime. This photo must be circa 1970s?

barranco

Also, I have now established the etymology for the word noria in Spanish: it is via Arabic ناعورة‎, nā’ūra, but originally Syriac, ܢܥܘܪܐ, nā’urā. The meaning is beautiful from a donkey perspective! Classical Syriac ܢܥܘܪܬܐ (nāʿōrtāʾ, “water wheel; growler”), from ܢܥܪ (nʿar, “to roar, growl, bray”). So the very meaning of the word noria connects with the sound made by a donkey.

More about noria technology:

http://www.machinerylubrication.com/Read/1294/noria-history

Advertisements

About Gareth Thomas

A fairly mixed career starting as an aircraft technician and later Franciscan friar eventually led into secondary school teaching. I settled in Spain where I teach Geography part-time and spend the rest of my time looking after the needs of four donkeys in a remote location in the mountains in the Costa Blanca. I have two blogs: a geography blog and a donkey blog.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Donkey research in Benidorm

  1. Geert Bakker says:

    Hi Gareth, beautiful story! We still have some rosmolens [ ros = horse, molen = mill ]; see https://www.google.nl/search?q=rosmolen&lr=&as_qdr=all&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=rfN6U9_LFcOeO5PygcgL&ved=0CEQQsAQ&biw=1164&bih=825 . I lived in the countryside till I was 12 when we moved to The Hague where I saw my first donkey. Love your posts! Best, Geert

  2. Frere Rabit says:

    Good to hear from you, as always, pilgrim Geert! I’m doing quite a lot of exploration of Benidorm history at present because of my geography teaching, so some of it is informing the donkey blog. My geography blog is http://geogblogcostablanca.wordpress.com

  3. Geert Bakker says:

    Most interesting! I seem to have a lot to catch up… How old are your students? Do you teach other subjects too?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s