It’s a great nickname, but who first coined it?
Why do people constantly refer to Ibiza as the “White Island“?
It seems there are many schools of thought, so it seems best to let you decide for yourself…
To this end we offer the four major theories:
1) A whiter shade of pale?
From our apartment you can see the white mist rolling down Ibiza‘s riverbed from the inland mountains every winter morning to the extent that the adjacent mountain and village of Siesta, less than a kilometer away are completely obscured.
A local vineyard owner proclaims that, “Ibiza is perfect for growing vines because of its humidity. The closeness of the mountains to the sea produces mists nearly everyday.”
Other evidence to support this claim comes from sailors who point out that upon arriving to Ibiza at sunrise you aren’t greeted by the outline of an island on the horizon, just a bank of cloud that doesn’t move like all the rest in the sky. (I’ve witnessed this and it is spectacular.)
So, this theory goes that: ancient mariners, who thought up lots of new place names on their travels, came up with the handle “White Island“.
2) White house paint?
This theory is the official line. Ibiza‘s tourism office assures us that the reason is for architectural considerations. However, they are expending a lot of energy at the moment on encouraging cultural tourism at the expense of Ibiza‘s recent drink and drug fuelled international clubbing reputation, but it looks a bit of a long shot to claim the title “White Island” came about because the houses all used to be painted white?
Disregarding the fact that the island’s lime kilns produce a substance that looks white when you use it as paint, which is practical anyway if you have a house anywhere south of the Alps, two questions spring to mind: How long did it take for somebody to invent different coloured paint at the same low price?
And has anybody from the Tourist department travelled around the rest of the Med, or almost the whole of Africa?
3) The Clubber’s view?
In the interests of a balanced argument we also asked a few of those in what would appear to be the opposition fraternity. This may have provoked a tongue in cheek reaction, but the feeling was that the phrase referred to the abundance of white lines to be found in the restrooms of island entertainment establishments. This, of course, has to be dismissed out of hand as nobody bearing such gifts came to Ibiza much before the end of the 2nd World War…
4) The salt mountain?
Salt used to be like gold back in the day, which is hard to comprehend nowadays. It was so rare and therefore expensive that the Chinese monopoly of the salt industry in that part of the world virtually funded the building of the Great Wall of China.
The Phoenicians perfected the art of salting (preserving) fish, which was a godsend to sailors who in those days were the only players in the import/export market that supplied the world.
The fact that they settled on Ibiza and created the salt flats put Ibiza on the map as one of the most important strategic ports in the Western Mediterranean. The island became rich and famous because of salt.
Things went downhill after the Roman occupation until the Moors moved in and modernized the salt business with sluice gates and windmills to pump the water around to best effect. Little has changed to this day in fact.
Once again salt became the powerhouse of the Ibizan economy, almost entirely financing the building of the extensive Renaissance walls that still surround Dalt Vila (the old town).
However, these walls attracted the attention of the Spanish mainland, so when Ibiza chose the wrong side in the War of Spanish Succession the winners claimed the salt revenue as their prize. Two hundred years of poverty lay ahead for the locals until the canning process was invented, soon wiping out global demand for salt. Not much help to Ibiza, but the islanders no doubt enjoyed an ironic end to what they viewed at the time as theft.
Nowadays the salt flats still produce thousands of tons of salt each year, of which the bulk goes to Norway for salting herrings, or to Scotland for the ‘gritting lorries’ to spread on northern roads.
Of the four theories I favour the latter – if only because it’s a jolly good yarn…
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