History of Minorca
Menorca is located at the eastern end of the Balearic Archipelago, and is the easternmost region of Spain
It is traversed by the 40th parallel, which passes through Ciutadella. Menorca is separated from its neighbor Mallorca by a canal which is a minimum of 18 miles wide from Cap de Artuig to Capdepera..
Mahon is 98 miles from Palma, 130 from Barcelona, 196 from Algiers, 218 from Marseilles, 223 from Valencia, and 230 from Alguer (a town in Sardinia where the people still speak Catalan).
The island is 47.8 kilometers long, measuring from the bay of Bajoli to the Espero de La Mola. At its widest point, it measures 19.5 kilometers. The perimeter is 220 kilometers, and the surface area 701.84 square kilometers.
Geologically, Menorca consists of two totally different regions: the north, the tramontana region, and the south, known as the migjorn. The northern region, about 267 square kilometers, corresponds to the Primary, Secondary, and Quaternary geological eras. (The Primary era is not found elsewhere in the Balearic islands, and is thus an interesting phenomenon.)
The migjorn region, about 435 square kilometers, is uniform in character and belongs to the Tertiary era. However, for centuries the inhabitants have traditionally divided the island into five distinct zones, differentiated by their morphology and, above all, by agricultural factors: tramontana (north), mitjania (center), migjorn (south), cap de ponent (western cape), and cap de llevant (eastern cape).
The climate in Menorca is moderate as a consequence of its location in the Mediterranean. The towns in the interior have slightly more extreme temperatures than the coastal ones.
The most prominent meteorological phenomena are the humidity and the wind, particularly the tramontana, which is cold and dry. It rains frequently from September to November, prior to which, towards the end of August, the weather is stormy.
The Human Factor:
One feature vital to understanding Menorca's past is the migratory movements. The various migrations from ancient times are the following:
- Troglodyte settlers
- Inhabitants of the talayotic dwellings, in the Bronze Age
- Catalans and Mallorcans (conquest of 1287)
- Greeks, navigators and traders established in Mahon
Emigration corresponds mainly to the various changes in the dominations and cultures that Menorca underwent. Other notable emigrations were to Florida in 1768, to Algeria in the last century, and later to South America (Cordoba in Argentina, and Montevideo).
The number of prehistoric ruins found in Menorca is exceptionally high, leading the island to be considered an "open-air prehistoric museum".
Almost 2000 prehistoric finds have been classified; they are widely distributed throughout the two geological regions mentioned above.
In ancient times, the migrations of the "overseas peoples" determined the settlement of the Mediterranean lands. Those prehistoric travelers must have arrived on Menorcan shores in fragile boats made of tree trunks, poorly held together with vegetable fibers, pushed along by the furious tramontana wind. They were the first to inhabit the numerous caves they found in the cliffs, enlarging them and adapting them to their needs. Thus the troglodyte, or caveman, culture began in Menorca.
The caves were natural, or modified by man. Their openings were either at ground level, underground, or high on the cliffs. They had round, oval, rectangular or trapezoidal entrances. They had one or more chambers, with or without columns.
One unequivocal sign of habitation was the circular hole in the ceiling, through which smoke escaped when it was too windy, cold, or wet to build fires in front of the cave entrance.
There are caves which are isolated, but also many in groups, sufficient in number to form true troglodyte settlements. The most important of these is at Calas Coves, followed by those at Cala Morell, Macarella, Torreta Saura, Barranc d'Algendar, and others.
Many of these caves later served as burial chambers. Later still, some were adapted by the peasants for use as stables, storage areas, granaries, or even water cisterns.
Despite the large number of caves already discovered, there are no doubt many more, hidden in the vegetation of the cliffs or between rocks. They jealously guard the millenia-old mystery of the unknown peoples who lived in them.
Inside some of the caves, as well as on the cliff walls, stylized drawings have been found representing men, animals, fish, nets, boats, geometric figures, and others.
The talayotic culture:
This is the most splendid Menorcan prehistoric period, characterized by the abundance of colossal megalithic monuments. This period occurred relatively late within prehistoric chronology: the Bronze Age, which began about 1600 BC. and lasted until 200 BC
The people of this era no longer lived in caves, but built homes of wood. They became farmers and raised livestock. They formed villages which they defended with walls and towers. Driven by their religious beliefs and a cult of the dead, they raised the colossal monuments which make Menorca a privileged region for the study of prehistory. The name of this culture derives from the monument which is most characteristic of the island, and is most widely found, the talayot. The word itself comes from the Arabic "atalay", meaning a tall structure used for surveillance.
Besides the talayots, Menorca has a wide range of monuments and prehistoric ruins, such as those constructed for military defense (Son Catlar, Torre d'En Gaumes, and others);
ceremonial monuments such as the menhirs (Torralba d'En Salort); those which are religious in nature and unique to Menorca, such as the taulas, formed of two large stones, one vertical and the other horizontal; the burial sites such as the navetas (Naveta d'Es Tudons).
During the splendor of the era of the talayotic culture, Menorca was visited by other peoples who crossed the Mediterranean, either for commercial purposes or in search of conquests.
The Phoenicians were in Menorca, as is evidenced by finds of some metal objects and colored glass. According to etymologists, it was the Phoenicians who named the island in honor of their God Baal. They also called it Nura, derived from Nur, meaning fire, as if they were referring to "land of fire".
The Greeks also tread on Menorcan soil.
Towards the middle of the 5th century BC, the Carthaginians occupied Menorca strictly for military purposes.
In 123 BC, the Romans conquered the Balearic Islands, which were then given the name "Balearicus": "Balearis Major" or "Majorica" and "Balearis Minor" or "Minorica".
The Baleares were politically incorporated into the province of Hispania Citerior, whose capital was the important city of Tarragona. Later, in the last days of the Roman Empire, the Balearic Islands formed a separate province.
The most important accomplishment of the Romans was the building of roads to allow communication among the different villages of the island. Also of note are the archeological finds, among which are tombs, mosaics, inscriptions, bronze statues, coins, gold and silver objects, and ceramics.
In 427, the Balearic Islands fell into the hands of the Vandals, who were fanatics and cruelly persecuted the Catholic Church.
In 534 the Byzantines took away the island from the Vandals and it became a part of the Byzantine Empire. At that time, the Catholic Church was reinstated on the island.
Towards the end of the 7th century, the Muslims wrested North Africa from the Byzantines, leaving only the Balearic Islands which, defenseless, soon fell before the force of the Islamic expansion. The Moslem ruins that are left in Menorca are both spiritual and material in nature.
Menorca Under Aragon:
In 1232 King Jaime I the Conqueror was in Mallorca to subjugate the Moorish uprising in the mountains. He sent galleys to Menorca in order to come to an agreement with the island regarding its surrender, or submission, to the Crown of Aragon. The result was a treaty of tribute that was respected until 1282, when Pere III the Great, passing through Menorca on his way to Africa, was betrayed by the Arab rulers of the island.
Pere III attempted to reconquer the island, but died before he could accomplish that feat. He was succeeded by Alfonso III, who finally wrested the island from the Muslims on January 17, 1287, after numerous battles.
After the reconquest, the fate of the remaining Arab population depended on their social and economic situation. In accordance with the hard customs of the times, the rich and socially well-placed were respected, while the poor, incapable of paying their ransom, were enslaved.
The conquered Arabs mixed with the Christian population and took on Catalan surnames.
Jaime II of Mallorca accomplished a magnificent task which favored Menorca. His ancestor, Alfonso III, had conquered the island, but the Mallorcan monarch turned out to be a great organizer, establishing a sensible order on the framework that covered all aspects of medieval Menorcan life. He founded new towns, such as "Ihalor", reconstructed the walls, and took charge of the famous document named "Pariatge", a set of regulations written with the Bishop of Mallorca, concerning the parochial and affiliated churches on the island.
Menorca was incorporated into the Catalan-Aragon Kingdom in 1343, when Pere IV of Aragon was crowned King of Mallorca. That same year by monarchal decree, the privileges of Menorca were augmented and consolidated through royal letters. The Consulate of the Sea was created as well as other administrative institutions, giving Menorca the right to be represented in the "Cortes Catalanes".
After the death of Marti the Humane, the island underwent a process of decadence. Negligence by the governors, banditry, and threats from the Barbarians resulted in the abandonment of agriculture in the coastal areas. All this contributed to the impoverishment of Menorca and its rapid depopulation. For this reason, Alfonso V the Magnanimous tried to repopulate the island, although not with "good Catalan people" but by pardoning any criminal willing to settle on the island. This led to numerous and serious problems.
Anarchy was most widespread in 1451-1452, dividing the islanders and launching a long civil war. Day by day, Menorcan life became more difficult and dangerous, and moral decadence added to the violence and political dissent.
Medieval archeology is generally poor. One of the few medieval religious structures is the main church of Ciutadella, today the Cathedral of Menorca, begun at the end of the 8th century at the site of the old mosque. It is a beautiful example of Catalan Gothic.
Another building of the period is the hermitage of the "Mare de Deu de Gracia" in Mahon, from the 15th century.
Among the military structures, the Arco de San Roque is outstanding, and a few watchtowers such as Torre Saura and Torre d'En Quart.
In numismatics, coins made in Menorca by order of Alfonso V are worth mentioning.
During this same period but outside the realm of archeology, the popular festival of Sant Joan was initiated in Ciutadella, and later was extended to the other towns of the island.
In the 16th century, the expansion of the Turkish Empire dominated virtually all of the Mediterranean and occupied half of Europe. Alliances were made with the French kings to fight the Spanish, resulting in coastal attacks which destroyed the two most important towns of the island: Mahon and Ciutadella.
The first attack was in Mahon in 1535 by the feared Haradin, known as "Red Beard", who swept through the city with his troops, raping, attacking, pillaging, assassinating, and even burning archives.
Later, in 1558, the same disaster occurred in Ciutadella when 15,000 Turks landed and besieged the city.
The 17th century is extremely interesting for those who wish to know Menorca's past.
.On the one hand, there was a social organization, with the governor, whose greatest preoccupation was the fortification of the capital and the Menorcan coastline.
During this period, the governor residing in Ciutadella was replaced by the mayor of San Felipe.
The "estamento", grouping the four social orders represented in the "Cortes de Aragon", which governed the administrative life of Menorca, was the so-called "Universidad". This was located in Ciutadella and was composed of four "jurados", or panels, one for each class of society: the military, nobles and aristocrats; the citizenry and bourgeoisie; the peasants; and the artisans.
Besides the "Universidad General de Menorca", located in Ciutadella, there were three other "universidades": those of Mahon, Alayor, and Mercadal.
The aristocracy also played a role of such importance that social, political, military, and economic life in Menorca without the influence of the nobles was inconceivable.
The military constituted an important element during those periods when the island was constantly besieged by pirates and the enemies of Spain.
The citizens were professional people (lawyers, writers, notaries, and doctors, the latter being more interested in theory than practice). And finally, there were the ecclesiastic institutions, whose highest figure was the "Reverendo y muy Ilustre Señor Pavorde de Menorca", who had a voice and a vote in the synods of Mallorca.
On the other hand, this was a period dedicated to the cult of the divine, and religious festivities were the only cultural option.
Natural calamities abounded: droughts, plagues of rats, caterpillars, locusts, and others. These caused famine and shortages throughout the population and the consequences were diseases such as cholera and plague.
Besides these calamities, the Menorcans suffered continuous raids by pirates as well as robberies by highwaymen who lived in the caves and cliffs and attacked travelers on the roads between towns.
The 17th century architecture is very interesting and consists of three different classes:
1. Religious buildings, such as the convent of Augustine monks in Ciutadella, the "Mare de Deu del Socors".
2. Military buildings, such as the reconstructed walls of Mahon and Ciutadella.
3. Civilian buildings, among which the "Casa Consistorial de Mahon" is outstanding, as well as some manor houses in Ciutadella.
During most of the 18th century, Menorca was a possession of the two principal powers which then were disputing dominance in the Mediterranean: England and France. This was due to the privileged strategic location of the island, the importance of the port of Mao, and the fortress of San Felipe which defended its entrance.
In 1708 Anglo-Dutch troops invaded Menorca, wresting power from Felipe V. This was made public in 1713. The governor Richard Kane moved the island capital to Mahon. He built a road called "Kane's Road", which survives to this day. He protected agriculture and livestock, and regulated administration, industry, and commerce.
In 1756 the French invaded the island, and the 300 English soldiers defending it surrendered. The main accomplishment of the new rulers was the foundation of the town of San Luis (in honor of Louis XV, king of France).
In addition, during the French domination, the "cami de Cavalls" (a horse trail) was restored. This trail circles the island along the coast.
The French domination was short, from 1756 to 1763. In that year the Treaty of Paris forced France to return Menorca to its previous rulers: the British.
In 1771 General Moytin ordered the construction of a new town ("Arrabal") near San Felipe. This was named Georgetown, in honor of King George III and today is known as Es Castell.
Menorca passed once more into Spanish hands during the reign of Carlos III, who, in deference to an alliance with France, named the Frenchman Duke of Crillon as Commander General. During this period, the destruction of the castle of San Felipe was ordered. Construction of this fortress had begun in the 16th century, under Carlos I.
In 1798 Menorca once more became English, after the invasions of the English fleet, first in Puerto Addaya and Cala Moli, and finally in Ciutadella. On November 15, 1798, General Quesada surrendered to the English troops, thus beginning the third British occupation period.
However, in 1802, by the Treaty of Amiens, the island once more went to the Spanish, this time definitively.
With the improvements made during the English rule in roads, fortifications, industry, livestock, and commerce, all sectors of the island were greatly strengthened during the 18th century.
One of the most important aspects of Menorcan culture in the 18th century was the birth of a literary movement during the last decades. It continued through the first third of the following century, creating a true "Menorcan period" within Catalan literature.
This was the "Sociedad Mahonesa de Cultura", created on April 30, 1778.
Other cultural facts of interest from this period include the first publication of the history of Menorca. The works of the painter Giuseppe Chiesa depict the public figures and the historic events of Menorca during those years.
Menorcan 18th century architecture contains monuments of diverse styles and purposes, such as the church of Sant Francesc de Mahon, in gothic-decadent style (1719-1792).
The church of Roser, in Ciutadella (1705-1750) is baroque, and the church and ex-convent of Carmen de Mahon is neoclassic (1726-1750). Cabinetmaking was of great importance, and during this period luxury furniture was made in English style for the manor houses.
During the first half of the 19th century, the economic life of Menorcans was very precarious. Many emigrated to Algiers and the town of Fort de L'Eau.
In 1835, a confiscation law issued by Mendizabal caused the closure of the six convents which existed on the island.
In 1860, Queen Isabel II landed on the island accompanied by other dignitaries.
In 1867 the first United States admiral, David G. Ferragut, came to Menorca. He was the son of Jordi Ferragut of Ciutadella.
Culturally, aside from the flourishing literary area, there was no lack of illustrious public figures in the 19th century, some with influence beyond the island. Although many of them were children of the 18th century, they became well-known during the 19th, such as the Mahon painter Pascual Calbo Caldes (1752-1817), director of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts of Vienna. Others were Dr. Mateu Orfila Rotger (Mahon 1787 - Paris 1853), and Josep Maria Quadrado (Ciutadella 1819 - Palma 1896).
Outstanding among the architectural works is the main façade of the cathedral, as well as many manor houses in Mahon and Ciutadella.
From 1868, coinciding with the triumph of the Revolution, urban expansion began in the Menorcan towns. The walls of Mahon and Ciutadella were destroyed, sacrificing tradition to the new hygienic norms and the demands of population growth. Wide streets were built, and even in the coastal zones summer houses began to flourish.
The opening of the first shoe factory in 1853 was the beginning of a new industry which formed the basis of the economy until the end of the following century. This was followed by jewelry, also quite successful within the Menorcan economy.
The 1860 construction of the main road from Mahon to Ciutadella, increased communication among the interior villages. Externally, mail service between Mahon and Barcelona was established in 1854. This included a stopover in Alcudia.
Towards the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th, there were large emigrations to Cuba, Cordoba in Argentina, and Montevideo.
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