Ibiza History & Culture

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History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

Sant Antoni de Portmany
Fiesta Day Celebrated 17th January

Saints & Fiestas

Hello and welcome back to the history page. I would like to wish everyone a belated Happy New Year and to apologize for my delayed return to the site. I had promised to regale the readership with an artist's profile for last week's edition, but ended up extending my holiday instead. Christmas seems to usher in a time of easy living, especially for islanders who do not get a chance to unwind in the summer. Now I'm back to the daily grind, however, in light of the upcoming fiestas of Sant Antoni, I'll have to postpone my debut as an art appreciator and resume in our usual historical vein.

Sant Antoni is one of those lucky towns that celebrate two major fiestas. One of its red-letter days is 24th August, Saint Bartholomew's Day (see our LiveIbiza Archive article Weekly Edition 025 of Saturday 18th August 2001), while the other is 17th January, the actual day of the town's namesake, St. Anthony. As one can imagine, the two fiestas are of a thoroughly different nature. The summer celebration is an action-packed affair with spectacular fireworks and masses of tourists who, already in holiday mode, help to fuel the festivities. (I might add that last summer, film stars Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell attended the Sant Bartomeu fiestas and had a grand time with their two young children.)

Winter Warmth

Naturally, the winter celebration is much more low-key, although, it is by no means less enjoyable. Despite the cold weather, there is a genuine sense of warmth and familiarity as the villagers gather together to make merry in a way not possible in the presence of so many tourists - who, after all, are strangers both to the locals as well as to each other. This note of anonymity is utterly lacking during the winter celebrations, a condition which seems to foster conviviality and deepen the bonds of community.

Furthermore, the Sant Antoni fiesta is last day that islanders traditionally eat Salsa Nadal, which, you may remember, is a rich Christmas pudding. Many Ibicenco families try to eke out their rations of this notorious dessert so that it will last until the 17th January, thus observing the saint's day and simultaneously marking the end of a long, satisfying Yuletide. Needless to day, the Sant Antoni Town Hall never removes the town's Christmas lights until after their patron has been duly honoured.

Historical Emendations

Turning our attention now to the more historical aspects of the event, Sant Antoni was one of the very first post-Conquest settlements. Its church dates back to 1305 and was probably the second of the four original chapels to be built outside the protective walls of Dalt Vila. (The first was, by all indications, a now non-existent chapel along the shore of Santa Eulalia that has been dated to 1302; but more on that next month.)

Although Ibiza's Llibre de Repartiment (a record of immigration) has not survived to the present day, it is known that, during the one hundred years following the Conquest (1235), the population in the quartó de Portmany grew steadily. Naturally, the modest stream of settlers that trickled to the island from Catalonia were careful to choose the best tracts of farmland and the moist, fertile plain of Portmany comprised some of the most attractive tillage. A spring-fed stream known as the Torrent de Buscastell flowed down from the hills that surround the Great Port, nourishing the fields and providing abundant water for people and livestock.

The gently sloping lands that fan out from the Portus Magnus Bay (into which the torrent emptied) were soon allotted to Catalan serfs. These brave settlers eked out a living by farming wheat, barley, legumes, etc. and by raising livestock, generally pigs, sheep and goats. It may surprise many readers, as it did me, to learn that fishing was not practised in any commercial capacity during these early post-Conquest years, or indeed, for several centuries afterwards. Piracy was so ferocious that taking to the sea for any reason was nothing short of a death wish. The defeat of the Turks at Lepanto in 1571 marked a turning point in maritime safety, though it would still take over a century before the Moorish threat was held more or less in check as well.

Fishing, then, did not become an everyday part of island industry until the 18th and 19th centuries - which is not to say that nobody ate fish. Several edible varieties swam freely in the sweet waters of the Buscastell Torrent where boys would fish them out for dinner. If a man had a free day he might cast his line off some coastal rocks to see what he could catch, or maybe even venture offshore in his llaüt - just a little - in hopes of finding a shoal of morenas (eels). Hunger as much as the pleasures of seafood would have impelled many a farmer to make such forays, but fishing of an industrial/commercial nature was simply not feasible until modern times.

Saint Anthony: Patron of Agriculture and Animals

Farming, therefore, was the mainstay of survival and explains why the Portmanians chose Saint Anthony as their patron. This saint, a 4th century abbot, was known as a protector of animals and agriculture, and so was held very dear to those who lived off the land.

In 1305, at the request of the inhabitants of Portmany, the Archbishop of Tarragona issued a decree of erection for a chapel that would provide much-needed asylum for both spirit and body.

Poor Defensive Site

The reason for the early construction of the Portmany church rests on the fact that a great many of the quartons' fincas were situated on a plain that was not only poorly sheltered by nature, but also lay quite close to the water's edge. Moreover, the great Bay of Portus Magnus was of such a welcoming nature that it allowed liberal entrance to friend and foe alike. Through dire necessity, the haven-giving walls of a stout temple (which probably resembled a bunker more than a house of God) had to be raised as quickly as possible.

Today, virtually nothing is left of the original Sant Antoni chapel, for, in the 16th century, major reforms were undertaken to enlarge and modernize the crumbling edifice. Continuing renovations have been made through the years, and today the well-tended Sant Antoni church stands proudly in a village where too few people appreciate its beauty. Among the features that distinguish it are the stone tower that stands as a rearguard and the lovely covered porch (porxo) and open-air patio that spread out grandly before it. The shiny cobblestones that pave the frontage are perhaps the only elements that remain from the original 14th century chapel.


That's all for this time. Hopefully I've managed to improve the public image of a town that is regularly maligned by the British press and, indeed, is often referred to with a certain mocking derision even by other Ibicencos. In its defence, I would like to say that Sant Antoni has been overrun by tourism precisely because it was such a charming village. It is true that its original charm has been somewhat marred by too much growth in too short a time, but the old beauty is still there for those whose eyes can perceive it. Also, Sant Antoni is the home of the LiveIbiza website as well as most of its contributors. That must say something for the place - though I'm not sure what!

Please join us next week when we'll take a look at the founding of Santa Agnès on the occasion of its patron saint day. Until then, have a good week,

Emily Kaufman