Ibiza is the westernmost of the Balearic Islands and few islands can have changed
hands more often because since the beginning of time Ibiza has constantly been
invaded or visited by whoever travelled through the Mediterranean Sea. Therefore,
I think it only necessary to explain briefly the tolerance of the local people
of this ancient island.
The island of Ibiza has been a coveted possession throughout its history and
a valuable prize to all those who effected its capture. This is not to be wondered
at when one considers its fine strategic position in the western Mediterranean,
its two large natural harbours, one on either side of the island, its high vantage
points from which to counter would be invaders, its fertility and obviously
its favourable climate.
There has always been two fundamental commodities here on this island that
are essential to preserve and maintain life - salt and fresh water - which were
originally the foremost attraction for the bold seafaring Phoenicians to stop
off here and stock up with these two key reserves.
During this period that the Phoenicians came over from the east intent on setting
up trading posts in and around the Mediterranean coast of Spain, Ibiza was an
obvious line of communication which was consequently occupied, but they were
not to hold permanence. In turn the Greeks and then the Carthaginians successively
overcame the occupants and established themselves in control. Each race in its
turn contributed to the development of the island in a number of ways. It was
the Carthaginians who, in 645 BC, built the Acropolis of Ereso on the hill on
which the town of Ibiza now stands and who named the island Ibosim. Although
there is no conclusive evidence, it is generally believed that the great Hannibal
was born on Conejera, the small island guarding the entrance to the Bay of San
Antonio and a main street in Ibiza now honours him with his name.
One of the earliest known names of the island, Gimnesia, indicates that the
inhabitants of that time, in common with those on the island of Mallorca, were
nudists. Now it is only the holidaymakers who try to emulate that ancient habit.
Successive names were attached by the island's conquerors. Ebysos was attributed
to the Greeks, who called the southern group of the Balearics Islands Pityusas
(pine covered). Ibiza became known as Ebusus during the Roman domination while
the Arabs later called the island Yebisah.
Towards the end of the 2nd century BC, after an occupation lasting more than
five hundred years, the Carthaginians gave way to the Romans. They too remained
in control of the island for several centuries and added further to its development.
Their most noteworthy contributions, still in current use, are the salt pans
at Las Salinas and some of the island's main roads. Roman domination of the
western Mediterranean started to decline before the close of the 3rd century
AD with the Visigoth invasion of Spain from the north. Shortly afterwards, in
426 AD, Ibiza was taken by the Vandals. Little more than a century later it
was recaptured by the Byzantine armies. This was in 535 AD and another comparatively
short period of development and reorganisation ensured.
By the turn of the 7th century the Moors led by Tariq stood poised in North
Africa for the invasion of Southern Spain. Simultaneously, in 711 AD they landed
not only in Spain but made the first of several successive invasions of Ibiza.
Their first occupancy lasted for less than a century. Then followed the most
dreadful period of fighting and devastation in the island's history. Between
798 AD and 909 AD the island changed hands four more times - a period of siege
and counter siege - during which first the French and later the Normans successfully
contested the Moors for occupancy and control. It was during this time that
Christianity was restored to Ibiza's inhabitants.
There was no lasting peace, however. In 900 AD after several attempts to recapture
Yebisah, the Moors eventually re-established themselves in command. Their next
settlement was to last for some three hundred years, broken only by a short
period when, after a fierce and bitter war, a crusade under the Archbishop of
Pisa achieved victory over the defenders. There is no doubt that Ibiza was a
valuable prize to the Moors who quickly again regained control. Their long period
of occupation too has left many marks still in evidence today, some seven hundred
years later, both in the customs and characteristics of the Ibicencans, their
dialect and in the whitewashed Moorish style houses.
On 8th August 1235 a force of Catalans under the Archbishop of Tarragona, Guillermo
de Montgrí finally drove out the Moors. Since that time, and indeed,
until early in the 19th century repeated attempts were made to capture the island
both by Moors and the Turks but all without success.
Christianity was quickly restored to the island immediately after the Moors
had been finally vanquished. One of the first tasks of Guillermo de Montgrí
was to establish a church in Ibiza. The Moslem mosque, previously the site of
the old Roman church, and possibly before that the location of the original
Carthaginian Acropolis, was chosen on which to build the church of Santa Maria
which was then of Gothic construction and this is now the cathedral. Little
of the original structure remains however as the church was almost entirely
rebuilt during the middle of the 18th century.
During the 15th century Ibiza was made into an island fortress. Watch towers,
many of which you can still see, were built in prominent positions around the
coast. These acted as vantage points from which to scour the sea and give warning
of the approach of invading fleets. In 1585 the construction of the stone wall
around the old city of Ibiza was completed. This replaced the old Arab wall.
Its ruggedness, even today, testifies to the skill of its builders. Leading
into the main entrance was a draw-bridge which, when raised, sealed off the
gateway. This then was the citadel into which the defending warriors of Ibiza
could go to withstand a long and sustained attack. Most of the village churches,
too, had fortifications built into their towers.
It was during the 17th century that the famed Corsairs of Ibiza first became
known. Renowned for their courage and daring they were formed to seek out and
repel the Moorish pirates. An obelisk in their honour now stands on the waterfront
The language or rather dialect of the Ibicencans is peculiar to the island.
It is basically Catalan with traces of Moorish, French and Italian. Like most
rural dialects it is clipped and limited in vocabulary and rarely is it committed
to print. Although the children are taught Spanish at school and this is constantly
heard on the radio and television the locals still lapse into Ibicencan in their
homes and daily lives. Nor does the local newspaper, the Diarío de Ibiza, which
is written in Spanish, appear to influence their speaking habits. There still
are however many of the peasants who are unable to read or write, although most
of them can make themselves understood when speaking to foreigners from the
mainland of Spain.
The tourism trade was the last of the invaders to this beautiful island and
therefore I've never known such a place like Ibiza where the local folk have
this unique tolerance towards holidaymakers who descend in the thousands here
on their island each summer.
Closure: after what the inhabitants of this very old island of Ibiza have had
to experience over the centuries of time the meaning of the word tolerance "tis
too starved an argument for my sword" and besides Café del Mar opens today.