Less recognized, but just as important, "cañizo" in Mediterranean architecture speaks of our roots. Despite being a craft in disuse, there are still those who are still in love with their techniques.
Children born in the Mediterranean know how to read the traces of ancient rivers through the reedbed, so dense and dense, swollen with so many sounds. In my memory, I remember them as small vegetable universes full of secrets –and the occasional shingles– at the mercy of the whims of the wind, because the reeds speak of the earth, but they do not always remain in the same place.
Sometimes they start a long journey because of storms to end up in the doorway of a fisherman. Others were extracted to make new fabrics, to make boxes where silkworms grew or to complete the roofs of the riuraus, typical houses in the Alicante region of La Marina Alta where raisins are collected. The hurdle speaks of strength and resistance. from memory
Currently there is only one craftsman who manipulates the "cañizo" in the entire province of Alicante, specifically in the city of Jávea. It's called Juan Antonio Santacreu Signes, “Creus” and, together with Jessica Bataille's studio, it reminds us that, in terms of design, everything we need is around us. For this reason, the use of "cañizo" in Mediterranean architecture has been (and is) natural.
The "cañizo" and the midnight fishermen
If we go around the cliffs of Cabo de la Nao and Playa del Portixol (Jávea) or Morro del Toix (Calpe), in Alicante, we will discover ancient caves and platforms excavated in the middle of the rock. These are the signs of identity that reveal the presence of a peixquera, an old platform made with reeds and other native materials deposited on the seabed to facilitate night fishing for squid. For more than 400 years, this risky type of fishing has been one of the many activities in the Mediterranean that used the hurdle in their daily lives, but not the only one.
There we have the rural world, and also the old houses that upholstered the false roofs and ceilings with reeds, the filled tiles, the railings or the slabs. The raisins that shine in Alicante's Marina Alta were also stored in packing boxes lined with hurdles to be transferred to the riuraus, the temples from which different after-dinner liqueurs are born, such as mistela (a traditional drink from the Community of Valencia).
“The roofed areas of the riuraus normally have beam ceilings, so the presence of the hurdle provides warmth and reinforces the structure. You feel really wrapped up,”. “When you use it on pergolas, the light changes and the shadows are projected. It is a sensation of spectacular movement, but, above all, of freedom. In addition, the hurdle changes color, it arrives green and turns golden like the sunset, it is fascinating.” Currently we can find many examples of the hurdle in Mediterranean architecture, especially in traditional houses in the old town of Jávea or if we make the mythical route of the riuraus by bicycle through nearby towns such as Gata de Gorgos or Jesús Pobre.
Microworlds where the neighbors arrived loaded with reeds every Christmas, the main time for making these mantles of dreams. After cutting the canes, the craftsman separated the thinner ones from the thicker ones and removed all the dry leaves. Then, the canes were stacked against the wall to facilitate drying (always vertically) and with a sickle the part of the bundle was felled to equalize them. The final touch consisted of using wire throughout the structure through a set of ties to achieve a more compact result.
Creus: the last craftsman of the hurdle
Juan Antonio Santacreu Signes, better known as Creus, grew up watching his father and uncle make sets of wires to create those reed fabrics. Over time, this craftsman perpetuated the teachings of his ancestors as a tool for his peixquera, inherited from his grandfather and still wandering somewhere along the Alicante coast. In the XXI century, Creus is the last custodian of the sea and its secrets, the perfect link between land and sea, our low ceilings and local fishing.
“Farmers used to use the hurdle to dry the raisins, but when they started fishing off the cliffs for extra income, they used a combination of reed, pine and esparto-based materials to support more weight,” he tells us. “These materials even today work better than before. I have a twenty year old hurdle and it still holds. It is something very ours”.
Creus knows that the peixqueras, being a platform that must support the weight of three people fishing, require thicker rods unlike those used in rural homes. Also the knots made with wire require more turns, and the crossbars use straight and thin trunks of young pines that grow between other older ones. And of course, a softer texture is needed according to bare feet, so the rod is peeled to prevent the fisherman from slipping with the viscous shellfish.
Creus often shares his teachings through Jessica Bataille's atelier in Jávea, illustrating the world with his craftsmanship. An increasingly common claim in the new Mediterranean architecture, a friendlier one, which speaks more to the land and the sea –or the sea, for whom their home was always bluer–. Because the cane fields are small vegetable universes, and the current use of the hurdle reveals new ways of flowing in spaces. Even to be freer.