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History in Ibiza

History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

Santa Eulàlia del Riu

Fiesta Day Celebrated First Sunday of May

Saints & Fiestas

Welcome to the history page. After straying rather far afield in our last edition, this week we shall bring our focus back to home base, in particular to Santa Eulàlia. The actual saint's day of this lovely north-eastern town falls on 12th February, however, a colourful flower show and a procession of horse-drawn carts are held there every year on the first Sunday of May. This affair is more of a popular fête to celebrate the coming of spring than it is a historically designated observance. Hence, history being our primary objective, we shall override these intimations of gaiety and dig deep into the soil of the town's foundation in the Middle Ages.

Winter Fiestas: Getting Around the Buzz Kill

An interesting aside is that most Ibicenco towns whose saint's days fall in winter always conjure up a secondary fiesta to be held in warmer weather. And who can blame them? Nobody can be expected to make merry in the dreary months of December (Sant Francesc Xavier) or January (Sant Antoni) or February (Santa Eulàlia). Even Christmas in the Ibicenco olden days was a lacklustre affair, much less joyous than the holiday observed at the opposite solstice, that of Sant Joan (24th June).

Nonetheless, the fact remains that an examination of the real name day of Santa Eulàlia will give us far more historical insight into the town than will its fair-weather substitute.

An Original Settlement

Santa Eulàlia is one of the four original settlements founded by the Catalans after their conquest of Ibiza in 1235. We mentioned the conquest briefly in our discussion of Sant Jordi (which see for further details, see our LiveIbiza Archive artilce Weekly Edition 007 of Saturday 14th April 2001) and explained that Ibiza was, in fact, conquered by a warrior knight and close personal friend of the Catalan King, Jaime I. It was not that the King was a timid stay-at-homer who left his fieldwork to others. Quite the opposite was true as his epithet, Jaime the Conqueror, bears out. The capture of Ibiza was delegated to Montgrí because, after the initial conquest of Majorca six years earlier, the King had been called away to a crucial theatre of the Reconquest (Valencia) where his personal leadership in battle was needed. Therefore, lest the campaign be forgotten altogether, it was handed over to a privateer.

Santa Eulàlia's Royal Legacy

Montgrí accepted the commission, although single-handedly he did not have enough manpower or war ships to carry out the offensive. He calculated that he would need to double his forces, and, to this end, enlisted the aid of two colleagues, Pedro of Portugal, a warrior Prince (i.e. one who would not accede to the throne) and Nuño Sanz, the Count of Roselló. The take-over was carried off with relative ease, after which the island was quartered and distributed proportionally among the warlords, according to the number of troops each had contributed. Two of the quarters went to Montgrí, one to Sanz and the final quarter, Santa Eularia, went to the Prince.

Pedro, however, was not overly enthused with his new holding and some years later sold it to the Prince-heir, Jaime II, who would later become the first Christian King of Majorca. It is for this reason that Santa Eulàlia soon became known as "the Quarter of the King". In fact, Jaime II is the only one of the lords who actually came to inspect his new lands in Ibiza. During his visit, he rode from Santa Eulàlia to Es Canar on a road that henceforth was called Es Camí del Rei (Road of the King), and where today there is a restaurant of the same name, hallmarking the path of royal passage.

Pre-Conquest Features

During Moorish times, the area was called Xarc, meaning 'east'. This denomination continued to be used in the early years after the conquest in reference to the 'Molins de Xarc', the water mills of Xarc. There were three mills (out of six that were in Ibiza) located at the confluence of a large tributary as it fed into the Santa Eulàlia River, i.e. at the foot of the big hill that today dominates the town.

Incidentally, before it dried up, this sweet water river was the only continuous waterway on any of the Balearic Islands. These mills, products of the Moor's advanced hydraulic technology, provided ample irrigation for the surrounding tillage, thus attracting a solid core Catalan settlers.

By 1303, the word Xarc had been replaced by the name Santa Eulàlia, indicating that plans were already in progress to build a church there, dedicated, of course, to the saint of the same name. Along with Sant Jordi, Santa Eulàlia was, and still is, the co-patroness of Barcelona. It was only fitting, then, that she should have been chosen as a namesake for one of the original churches. Very little is known about this virgin martyr except that she was a native of Barcelona, born in 308, and that she was crucified by the Romans (who then occupied Hispania) on an 'X' shaped cross, known as the cross of St. Andrew.

Medieval Lore

Etymology aside, the Santa Eulàlia church is surrounded by an intriguing legend which historians have been trying to unravel for years. Oral tradition holds that the town's original church was not built on the hilltop ('Puig den Missa') where it stands today, but that an earlier church, perhaps just a chapel, had been raised at the water's edge on a site known as 'Punta de s'Església Vella'. Apparently, one Sunday, after the congregation had just stepped outside following mass, this mysterious temple fell into the sea like a house of cards. It was only then that the present-day church was built on Puig den Missa.

Several essays have been put forward by accredited island historians, Joan Marí Cardona and Francisco Peters, to name two, who, through piecing together the existing fragments of concrete data, have come to the conclusion that the legend is probably based on a fair part of truth.


That's all for today folks. Our next port of historical call is Puig den Valls, one of the island's more recent towns. Until then, God Bless,

Santa Eulàlia del Riu
Picture Copyright © Gary Hardy

Emily Kaufman