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History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

The Spanish Civil War In The Pitiuses
Part Six

Spanish Wars

Hello and welcome to the history page. We will pick up the thread of our story this week on 7th August, 1936 and the uncontested Republican capture of Formentera in a joint military operation launched from Barcelona and Valencia. As readers will remember, our last instalment ended at the critical juncture when Commandant Mestre had just rejected Captain Bayo’s overture, issued by cable from Formentera, inviting the commandant to surrender willingly or else face sure defeat. Mestre, though woefully unprepared to meet Bayo’s well-provisioned troops in combat, was determined not to hand over Ibiza as glibly as his subordinate; Miquel Tuells had done in Formentera. Bayo responded to Mestre’s refusal by departing immediately for the larger Pitiusa, bent on reducing the Nationals into submission … which he did. The puny resistance offered by Ibiza’s ill-armed and scantly manned militias was no challenge for the thousand-strong Republican invasion. It is also worth noting that Mestre’s last words to Bayo, “The blood you wish to shed will be shed,” proved to be a chillingly accurate forecast of events to come.

Republican Disembarkation: 8th August (Sant Ciriac)

The two destroyers that carried the republican troops landed at two separate points on the north coast of the island, Pou des Lleó and Santa Eulària, and immediately proceeded to make their way on foot to Ibiza Town. During the course of this march, Bayo’s troops met with resistance on two occasions, the first incident occurring in Sant Carles where the village chaplain, Antoni Tur i Costa, and his father endeavoured to halt the invaders by the use of firearms. Naturally, they were overcome and their small group of resisters became the first victims of a rather bloody five-week Republican occupation. The second point of resistance took place at the mines of s’Argentera where the Republican troops encountered a small company of National soldiers dispatched from Vila. Though rather forgettable, this skirmish stands out as the only instance of open combat in the Pitiuses between the opposing sides of war. Despite numerous deaths among the Republicans, their progress was not hindered in any crucial way and they pressed on toward Vila, making their entrance the following day, 9th August.

Well before the dawning of that day, news of the National defeat had reached the city, unleashing havoc at both the civilian and military level. All rightwing sympathizers who still remained in town (the magnate Matutes and Bishop Cardona, to name but two) quickly dispersed into the countryside, as did Commandant Mestre. Captain Garcia Ledesma (the island’s maximum military leader prior to the outbreak of war) and the prison warden, Vicente Belenguer, both committed suicide. Conversely, all of the leftists who had been in hiding, including the illustrious literati, Rafael Alberti and María Teresa León, began to emerge from the caves and forests where they had subsisted for the previous three weeks.

Destruction and Persecution

In the days following the republican seizure of power there ensued a small reign of terror, the brunt of which fell upon the clergy. Readers will remember from our overview that one of the keynotes of Republican ideology was anti-clericalism and that attacks on Church property and its members had been rife all over Spain long before the war. However, being essentially acts of popular vandalism, such attacks had never occurred in Ibiza, for the simple reason that the vast majority of Ibicencos loved the Church as much as they loved life.

It was therefore quite a collective shock when the marauding masses of Republican soldiers fell upon the island, systematically burning churches and killing off any clergy they could find. Of the approximately fifty clergymen living in the Pitiuses, twenty-one were killed by the invaders and the rest would no doubt have met the same fate had they not sequestered themselves into secret nooks and crannies provided by their loyal flocks. In Formentera, where the authorities had surrendered without so much as a peep, the Republican troops went straight for the Sant Francesc parish priest, killed him and his father on the spot, and threw their bodies into the sea. The vicar at Sant Ferrán (Formentera) was also arrested that day, sent off to be incarcerated in the castle in Dalt Vila, and subsequently shot in the September Massacre of which we will speak next week. Even the Bishop’s head carried a price and, as in the days of the Wild West, numerous posters sported the logo: “Bishop Cardona - Wanted Dead or Alive”.


Most of the island’s churches were burned and all of their contents, archives and artwork destroyed, leaving nothing behind but four smouldering walls and sometimes a roof. Of the twenty odd religious structures that existed in Ibiza only four survived the holocaust: the Cathedral of Santa María, the Dominican convent (currently the Eivissa Town Hall), and the two rural churches of Sant Antoni and Jesús. The former escaped desecration thanks to the cleverness of the Sant Antoni villagers who, when the marauders began to sack and burn their church, made a big show of being Republicans themselves and joined in the pillage. The locals then told the soldiers to carry on down the war path while they finished off the job. Needless to say, as soon as the soldiers were safely out of earshot, the folk of Sant Antoni began to dismantle and hide the most precious works of art, which they restored to the church several weeks later. In the case of Jesús, Bayo’s troops must at least be commended on their appreciation of the exquisite altarpiece that graced this church. Miraculously, a ray of sanity pierced their war-making and they allowed the work of art to be saved. The altarpiece may still be seen today at its home in Jesús.

Another point, on which the Republicans must be commended, despite their otherwise largely atrocious behaviour, is on the sparing of Isidor Macabich’s life. For, despite the fact that this great scholar and historian was known to be a staunch right-wing sympathizer and activist, Macabich’s intellectual brilliance placed him in that special category of gifted beings and so found immunity from the ravages of war.


So there we have the first three days of Republican occupation in the Pitiuses. Perhaps not quite what we’d expected from the shining ideals of the Second Republic. But it just goes to show that the highest-minded social aspirations can sink nefariously low under the yoke of human cruelty. Join us next week when we will be speaking with the author, Rafael Sainz, on his soon to be published book on the Civil War in the Pitiuses. Until then.

Emily Kaufman