This article originally appeard in the April 2001 edition of Ibiza NOW:
The shrine at Es Cuieram (Es Culleram), one of the most important sites on Ibiza dedicated to the Phoenician Goddess Tanit has been given a new lease of life and, more importantly, been preserved for future generations. The Consell Insular hopes that the site will be open to the public during the course of this Summer, although no further details were available at the time of going to press.
It has been known for several years that the cave of Es Cuieram is in imminent danger of collapse, a danger that can easily be appreciated from the outside. The "cave" in fact consists of a series of openings between a series of fallen rocks. Although the current configuration has been stable for several thousand years, experts reported several years ago that the cave was unstable and in imminent danger of collapse. Since then it has been closed to the public.
Last year, Ibiza's Consell Insular purchased the site of Es Cuieram (a rare show of unanimity at a Council meeting) and has since commissioned the Madrid firm Geofisa SL to stabilise the rock formations and make the cave suitable for public exhibition, with a total budget of some 43 million pesetas.
The site supervisor, Carlos Espin, explained that the workers had used a variety of techniques to stabilise the rocks, including binding them together with long steel bolts, which were then disguised with cement and, in some cases, covered over with local rocks, "all the work has been done with great respect for the surroundings," he insisted.
In addition, the team has stabilised the floor surface and made it easier for walking "all using local stone and fitting in with the existing materials and construction." Overall, he and his team have spent more than two months at the site. Although the work involved has been extensive and complicated, the team has done an excellent job of ensuring that their work is as unobtrusive as possible - an achievement that all other restoration teams working on the island ought to study in great detail.
According to Emily Kaufman's book, the History Buff's Guide to Ibiza: "An excavation of the [Es Cuieram] site in 1907 produced a cornucopia of offerings, most of which have been attributed to Tanit. The earliest of terracotta figures were bell-shaped busts which represented the Goddess seated with a cloak of wings covering her body. Many of these statues and other findings from Es Cuieram can be seen in the Ibiza archaeological museum in Ibiza Town.
Even today, the site retains a brooding, mystical atmosphere, and obviously still attracts devotees of the Goddess. The former access route from the Sant Vicent-Sant Joan road far, far below, is signposted with simple stylised figurines of the Goddess painted on rocks, and the track has obviously been well maintained until recently. Inside the cave itself, a large rock which could easily have served as an altar, bore "offerings" of a branch of Rosemary and some fruit on the day the Ibiza NOW visited.
How to get there: The cave can be found on top of the hill overlooking Cala Sant Vicent. According to the site workers, there is an easy access leading off from the extension to the Sant Carles-Sant Vicent road, which is, however, not signposted. The traditional route starts in a layby on the Cala Sant Vicent-Sant Joan road, before the village of Sant Vicent itself. It is a steep and strenuous climb, charmingly signposted with painted representations of the Goddess, but easy to follow. At present the Consell Insular has no information as to when the cave will be open again to the public.
Ibiza NOW says: The Es Cuieram site is one of the most important archaeological sites on the island; it is also one of the most inaccessible. It is therefore good to see that the Consell Insular has finally taken responsibility for restoring it, despite the elevated cost. Let us hope that the Cultural Department does not fall into the trap of making the place TOO accessible, and ruining its mystical atmosphere.
Above all, it is good to see that the work has been so sensitively carried out. Let us hope that this will be the standard that all future restorations will try to live up to: too many restorations in the past have been badly and too obviously executed.