Ibiza History & Culture

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History in Ibiza

History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

Puig den Valls
Fairs and Fiestas

Saints & Fiestas

Welcome to the history page. This week we have a mixed bag, for there are two events that merit our attention. Both events are historical in some respects, but also quite contemporary in others.

The first engagement on our agenda is the fiesta at Puig den Vals, a suburb of Ibiza Town. There is no fixed date for this celebration as the area was not named after a saint and therefore lacks the guiding reference of the ecclesiastic calendar. Left to their own devices, local residents quite reasonably decided to hold the festivities on the second Sunday of May, which means that, this year, the holiday falls on 13th May.

A Knight's Demesne

As the newest parish in the Pitiuses, dating back only to the recent year 1976, Puig den Vals has been almost entirely exempt from mention in historical writings. What we do know is that, at some point in the 16th century, the Spanish King granted a small hill and surrounding flatlands to a knight by the name of Joanot Vals, of either Majorcan or Catalonian descent. Hence the denomination: Puig (hill) den (of) Vals (surname).

As we have seen in previous instalments, ecclesiastic units initially defined political units in Ibiza. That is, first a parish or a vicariate was established to serve a determined area, and ex post facto, the corresponding political mechanisms were set in motion. It can safely be said that churches are the only reason towns sprang up at all, for demographic patterns tended toward dispersion rather than cohesion.

Puig den Vals is a clear exception to this antiquated system of 'townshipping'. First it became an important residential and industrial nucleus and, posteriorly, a church was built and a school district formed to serve its inhabitants. In this sense, it is the only 'modern' town on the island.

Local Retreat

In the 1930s, the well to do families of Ibiza Town began to build holiday homes in Puig den Vals for their weekend leisure. Today, of course, it seems rather funny to 'get away from it all' a mere three miles from home. But, we have to take into account that, at that time in Ibiza, motorized transport was still in its Iron Age. And I don't suppose the roads were too reliable, either.

Several decades later, with the advent of tourism and the subsequent expansion of the work force, Puig den Vals began changing form a Sunday getaway into a permanent, bustling community in its own right.

First a School, Then a Church

In the 1960s, a sudden boom in prosperity prompted the building of a small school, though residents still had to travel to either Jesús or Ibiza Town to attend mass, get married, baptise their newborn, etc.

Finally, in 1976, the exigencies of an ever-growing population brought about the creation of a new parish, the first and only one to be divided between two municipalities, Ibiza Town and Santa Eulària.

Now we know a little bit more about one of the island's little known towns. For our second engagement, kindly . . .

Turn Your Clocks Back 1,000 Years!

This weekend, the Town Hall of Eivissa is staging a three-day historical recreation in the ancient walled city, locally known as 'Dalt Vila' (literally 'the High Town' in Catalan). The event has been dubbed 'Eivissa Medieval' and is a popular/commercial celebration in honour of the fact that, in December 1999, Dalt Vila was declared a World Heritage site.

The overwhelming success of last year's event, which was attended by over 50,000 residents and tourists, has prompted island authorities to institute the happening on a yearly basis. The affair seems to have found its niche in the balmy month of May, the perfect time of year to enjoy the cultural pleasures of sightseeing.

Stroller's Paradise

For the whole of the weekend, no vehicles are allowed to circulate within the walled citadel so as not to mar the truly medieval atmosphere of its winding, cobblestone streets. If last year's event is anything to judge from, the effect is pure magic. The midways are lined with stalls selling wares of every kind: antiques and handcrafted objects, ethnic foods and drinks, medicinal and culinary herbs. All the while, jugglers, snake-charmers, fakirs, players and troubadours will be adding spice to the plazas with their amusing performances, both prepared and ad-lib.

Another interesting feature of the fair is that artisans from the most typical medieval guilds put on demonstrations of how their craft was practised in the days of yore. Glass, tin, iron, wood and clay are some of the materials that are worked as small groups gather to watch.

Naturally, Dalt Vila, provides the perfect backdrop to this bustling casbah, where the commonplace seems to enter the realm of the extraordinary. In keeping with the historical ambience, all participating vendors and performers dress in the apparel of the day. Even visitors are afforded the opportunity to keep to ancient custom by paying for their purchases with maravedis, the smallest denomination of coinage (and hence the commonest) used throughout Spain in the Middle Ages. The maravedis available for commerce at the 'Eivissa Medieval' market have been minted especially for the occasion and are worth 100 pesetas.

Background Infomation

The list of UNESCO World Heritage sites continues to grow and there are now over 600 sites in more than 100 countries throughout the world. The idea behind the qualification is that these sites, by merit of "their outstanding universal value", should be preserved for future generations. However, it is up to the local government of each site to allocate funds to this end. The denomination 'World Heritage' is a status, not an endowment. As a matter of interest, other World Heritage sites include Machu Pichu in Peru, the Alhambra in Granada and the pyramids in Egypt, to name but three.

Ibiza holds the unusual distinction of being a 'mixed' site, that is, different parts of the island have been awarded the status for different reasons. Interestingly, natural assets are also eligible for the classification and it was on this score that the extensive underwater prairies of sea grass (Posidonia Oceania) growing off the island's southern shore were selected for the honour. The other four sites in Ibiza are: 1) the Puig des Molins necropolis, the largest surviving Punic necropolis outside of Carthage; 2) Sa Caleta, the first Phoenician settlement in Ibiza, circa 650 BC; 3) the city walls, rebuilt in the 16th century over successive layers of earlier bastions; and 4) Dalt Vila, the fortified acropolis, an urban maze of Phoenician, Punic, Moorish and Catalan culture.


If you happen to be on the island, I strongly recommend a visit to Dalt Vila to see the fair. Unless you pay a visit to the archaeology museum at the very top, you may not actually learn anything concrete about history, but it is the closest we can get to experiencing what life must have been like 'back then'. Despite the event's highly commercial slant, it is brought off with excellent taste, and the chaos is amazingly well organised. Hollywood couldn't have done it better! See you next week for a closer look at the necropolis.

Emily Kaufman