Ibiza: A world forgotten – Rolph Blakstad

“As a child, I had a favourite book called The Magic Walking-stick. It was about a boy who had a walking-stick that was a kind of magic wand. By holding it and by making a wish, he could travel to anywhere in space and time. Looking back over my years in Ibiza, I realize that my travels in time have been to me as marvellous as the travels of the boy in the book. During these years, the ancient culture of Ibiza had passed away, evaporated. The great god Pan has truly died. From this side of the time-barrier, the age-old Ibiza that still existed twenty years ago seems as remote as the fabled kingdom of Solomon, and like that realm it can be revisited in the mind’s eye.”

So said famed Ibiza architect Rolph Blakstad in a (as yet unpublished in English) foreward to his book, La Casa Eivissenca. He goes on to continue the wonderful tale of a creative life that led him to settle in the Mediterranean. In 1951, the 21-year old Canadian history buff, painter, architect and filmmaker received the Emily Carr scholarship to study painting anywhere in the world. He chose Florence, Italy and alongside his wife Mary, headed to Europe for an adventure that saw them spend much time in museums, palaces and cathedrals, and most importantly, fell in love with the Mediterranean.

After returning to Vancouver two years later to take up an opportunity to work in television, Rolph found himself with a feeling of ‘incompleteness’ around 1956. Struck with a desire to go away for a year to paint and clear his head, he took a year’s leave of absence, knowing the Mediterranean was once again calling.

“In Alicante we bought ticked for the boat to Mallorca via Ibiza. The night we sailed for Ibiza the air was warm, the sea calm. The little steamer was filled with islanders who, for one reason or another, had been visiting the mainland. Most of us slept on deck my wife and I shared a hatch cover with a family of gypsies. The night sky was filled with stars. There was a steady throb from the motors and the swishing sound of the bow waves, spreading outwards softly against the gentle swell.

Dawn found us entering the harbour of Ibiza. There was a bustle of preparations by the people on board, excited to be home, anxious to disembark. I suppose we felt what people had felt for centuries, coming into this little harbour bathed in the pale rose light of early morning. The peacefulness and calm was such that one sensed on was passing into a different realm, further away in time and space than could be measure by the night we had spent on the ship. The scene we had awakened to was distant, world forgotten, apart.

The town itself was white, pyramidal, a terraced hill rsing from the sea with tier upon tier of crystalline cubic houses. The whole bay was bound together by great swathes of beige stone, the fortified walls. Beyond, ringing the whole bay, were mountain ranges of the kind you would imagine in a fairy tale. A kingdom in miniature. The light was incredibly clear: every detail of the distant farms and houses, every tree, seemed finer, more perfect – as when you look through the wrong end of a telescope. The green farmlands came right to the shoreline of the bay. Hills covered with olive-trees came right up to the town walls. The quayside was lined with wooden sailing ships.

The anchor was loosed. The chain sped out with a running clatter; our attention was suddenly brought to focus on the activity around us on the ship. People, recognizing friends on shore, waved excitedly, calling out jokes and greetings. It seemed that the whole town had gathered on the quayside. There was a warm, festive air. We were carried by a flow of passengers funnelling down the gangway into the waiting crowd on shore. The Ibizan women and girls were dressed in peasant costume. The men were dressed in faded well-washed cotton shorts and trousers. They seemed to be lounging together whether they were sitting or standing. To meet the boat was the great event of the day, a pleasure to experience even if you were not expecting friends.

We had about an hour on shore before the ship was to depart, bound for Mallorca. We headed up through the massive gates of the walled town. We felt exhilarated climbing the ancient, cobbled, winding streets. The houses seemed more vegetable than mineral, the softened contours appearing to grow organically out of the ground. It was impossible to absorb all of the details. There were balconies, stairways, tunnel-like passages twisting off in unexpected directions, tiny windows, people everywhere, women sitting in doorways intent on embroidering, children running. The whole town, streets and all, had an informal air of one huge living room shared by everybody. We did not feel like strangers.

When we reached the Cathedral square, suddenly the view opened out over the whole bay and beyond, revealing range after range of miniature mountains. The sun had risen, the light had changed from soft pink to the clear gold of a warm autumn morning. The sea beyond the harbour was deep ultramarine, the calm bay below was a paler blue, glowing from within with a soft white light, the reflections of the clouds floating overhead. Passing behind the Cathedral, we emerged to an even broader vista t the south, with the island of Formentera a thin line of pale blue in the distance. As we turned to descent to the port, we both knew that we had found a place in which we wished to live. We were on to Mallorca to see the island; we spent a week there, anxiously awaiting the next boat to Ibiza so we could settle in.”

Continue reading about Rolph and Mary’s assimilation into the island’s expatriate community and of Rolph’s explorations of an island steeped in history and mythology in the White Ibiza Living Guide next month.

Text courtesy of Blakstad Design Consultants – click here to read more about Ibiza’s most successful architectural company on White Ibiza.