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History in Ibiza

History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

Sant Ciriac
Fiesta Day Celebrated 8th August

Saints & Fiestas

Welcome to the history page. We have now entered the month of August, but not to worry. It is a habitual occurrence at this time of the year. Far from stating the obvious, I offer fair warning to the uninured. In Ibiza, passing over the calends of this month is rather like passing through the gates of hell: you never know what kind of strange creature you're liable to encounter next. Mental coherence begins to crumble as the month wears on and, eventually, sanity ceases altogether.

These perils not withstanding, August is Ibiza's biggest fiesta month, not just for holidaymakers but for the native population as well. There are a total of six bank holidays during the course of the month, some celebrated over the whole of the island, and some locally in the various town and villages. There is one fiesta, however, which reigns supreme over all the others. It is Sant Ciriac, the commemoration of the Catalan Conquest. The festivities span several days and include fireworks, precessions by land and sea, cultural and musical events, etc.

Revelries apart, what concerns us here is the historical significance behind the fanfare. August 8th marks the day when, in 1235, the Catalan forces sailed into Ibiza and claimed the island for the Crown of Aragon. To better understand the whys and wherefores of the conquest, let us examine the chain of events that led up to it.

The Crown of Aragon

Our story begins with the Reconquest, which could roughly be described as Spain's answer to the Crusades. In effect, the Reconquest was the Spanish theatre of war against Muslim hegemony. During the 11th and 12th centuries, the main strength resided with the Muslims, but the balance of power began to shift in favour of the Christians at the start of the 13th century. A decisive battle in the year 1212 (Navas de Tolosa) marked the point of no return in Muslim-Christian rivalry. From this juncture onward it became clear that the growing political and military momentum of the allied Christian forces had finally succeeded in overshadowing five centuries of Moorish supremacy.

Of all Spain's Christian kingdoms at this time, Aragon was the most powerful. Among other factors, its primacy was due to its well-developed seaports, one of which was Barcelona. Not surprisingly, this coastal city became the kingdom's leading merchant and naval centre.

A Plea to the Monarch

The only impediment to the expansion of Barcelonese commerce was the rampant and unchecked piracy that plagued local waters. In 1227, with this grievance in mind, a consortium of beleaguered merchants request an audience with their king, Jaime I, later known as Jaime the Conqueror. They complained that it was impossible to conduct business with neighbouring seaports owing to the Moorish snipers who perpetually sharked the seaways. Needless to say, the Balearic Islands provided the perfect launch pads for these attacks and with piracy as the foremost national industry, the Moors' seafaring abilities were honed to precision. No ship, however well-armed, was ever safe when passing through Balearic waters. The king saw the truth in the merchants' words and agreed to take naval action to oust the Moors from their island lairs, for once and for all.

Recruiting Manpower

It took two years to prepare the offensive, which had as its first target Majorca. Jaime had a good number of troops at his disposal, but when launching large campaigns he invariably called upon a core group of trusted knights for their collaboration. In this way, even as the ruler of a relatively small political unit, he could amass the manpower necessary to undertake large military ventures.

The siege against Majorca was successfully carried out in 1229, with the original plan being to carry on directly to Ibiza. Unexpectedly, however, the king was called away to a parallel campaign in Valencia where his personal leadership was needed in battle. Thus, it was decided that the attack against Ibiza and Formentera should be postponed until Jaime could again join the campaign. (Just as an aside, the island of Minorca was also left unassailed at the time, though a pact of non-aggression was drawn up; it was definitively captured in 1287).

Getting back to Ibiza, six years had passed since the battle plans were put on hold, and still the king was occupied in other endeavours. Eventually, Jaime asked one of his closest personal friends, the warrior knight, Guillem de Montrgrí, if he would assume leadership of the siege.

Ironically, Montgrí had just accepted the high post of Archbishop of Tarragona, although he had not, as yet, been ordained. Faced now with two very different life options, the knight undertook a solemn search of conscience and came to the conclusion that he must renounce the archbishopric for he was much more a warrior than a man of the cloth. The Pope accepted Montrgrí's determination, but under one condition: that all of the goods of conquest and the wealth generated thereby should be turned over to the Church of Tarragona upon the knight's death. Montgrí agreed and so it was done.

Preparing the Warpath

Like the king, Montgrí had a good number of troops at his disposal, but he needed to double his manpower in order to take Ibiza. To this end, he enlisted the aid of two friends, Nuño Sanz (a.k.a. the Count of Roselló) and Pedro of Portugal, a warrior prince who at that time lived in Catalonia. Together, the three men took to the seas in 1235, their ships laden with artillery, and their hearts bent on victory.

They approached Ibiza from the south, disembarking on the Playa de Figueretes, presently part of Ibiza town. After a small skirmish in which the Christian troops prevailed, the invaders made their way on foot to the walled city. Here, legend has it, they were let in though a secret entrance by previous agreement with a Moorish traitor. The story goes that there were two Moorish brothers who ruled the island. One brother ruled the citadel - and was therefore more powerful - while the other brother ruled the lower city and the marina. It is said that the top brother stole one of the lower brother's wives, hence creating a motive for treason and revenge.

Although this tale has never been officially chronicled, it is thought by island historians to be true. Their assumption is based firstly on the fact that, for the Moors, the battle was virtually lost before it even began. The wronged brother had nothing to lose and everything to gain by making a personal pact with the invaders. His willingness to aid them no doubt assured him exemption from the usual fate of vanquished rulers - death or, even worse, slavery. The second argument for the story's likelihood is a 14th century document in which the beach of Figueretes is referred to as "the field of treason". Also convincing is the fact that the medieval name for the street where the Christian troops are purported to have entered was "the street of the invader". If Montgrí had only known it would be so easy, he could have left half his men at home!


At any rate, anyone interested in visiting the actual site of alleged entry can go to Ibiza's old town and follow the cobbled streets up to the Capilla de San Ciriaco where a commemorative plaque hallmarks the spot. The chapel that now stands at this site was named in honour of Saint Cyriac, the patron saint who, in the ecclesiastic calendar, corresponds to the day of the conquest, 8th August. Just as a side note, Saint Cyriac of the Baths was an early Roman martyr who was killed in 304 after having worked as a slave to build Diocletian's Baths. The fiesta of Sant Ciriac was not officially declared as a public holiday until 1897.

Join us next week as we carry on with our busy summer agenda and commemorate the lovely inland village of Sant Llorenç.

Emily Kaufman