Thursday, September 6, 2012
Las Salinas de Pinilla
A couple of dozen miles east of the farm on a dried-up arm of one of the streams that is partly responsible for feeding the lakes, lie the remains of what was once the biggest salt works in Spain. I knew nothing about them, not even that they existed, until my brother-in-law the retired colonel told me he had seen them while out riding his Harley one day. Knowing my taste for visiting new places on the bike (mine has no engine), he mentioned it to me. They stand beside a road, clearly visible, but one I have never taken, as it’s beyond what I think of as my maximum distance. But my b-i-l the r-c thought there was path that would take nearly twenty miles of the route, which brought it within not only my range, but that of Mrs Hickory as well, who said she wanted to see it. He was right, there was a path, through a large vineyard and a forest of ‘sabinas’ (Juniperus sabina), an attractive-looking green tree with soft, needle-like leaves and a very pleasant smell. We have a few on the farm, and some of the rooms are lined with its wood, but here there were dozens together. Most of the foliage you find on this dry, rocky ground is a cold, hard, dark green, which is why it’s always a pleasure to find a group of these trees. They are usually found together with thyme, which also adds to the smell. The Salinas are just below the point where the path joins the road again. As you come out of the wood onto the road you can see the flats below you, and the dry, white bed of the stream as it continues on. It's just possible the Romans made salt there, but beyond one of the pools, which might have had a Roman-type floor made of stones, it was all much more recent. Probably late mediaeval. They seem to be from the 15thC when they were controlled by the Austrias and later monarchs and supplied salt for much of Spain. It was a crown monopoly, of course, as it was in many countries until relatively recently. The area was controlled by a governor appointed by the crown who lived in a large house overlooking the salt beds and had absolute power over the workers (so they say). There was one building, basically housing a well, that was older and well preserved. The rest were relatively recent and ruined. There were a dozen or so flat-bottomed pools, for want of a better word, of different shapes, sizes and flooring, but more or less rectangular, 20/30/40/50x20m, and with flat floors of found, unworked stones. These were separated off by low brick or stone walls, and some were contained by wood. I tried the salt where it still adhered to one floor and it was very salty. They were at different levels. I wonder if they belonged to different people or villages, or were worked at different times, and improved. It is all long abandoned. Along the stream you can see what appears to be the natural riverbed caked in white salt. There were birds and rabbits on it. The water and the channel it runs through is not exactly a branch of the river, but is channelled from a spring, which then runs into the river Pinilla a mile to the south west. I wouldn’t say the place is worth a special visit but if you pass by, then stop and look. It was once an important centre of industry, and has its part in the economic and social history of the Empire. You learn that there is money in salt, there is money in providing what people want, but most importantly, there is a lot of money in controlling the trade in what people want. Trade is, after all, just work. Monopolizing trade, on the other hand, is wealth and powee.