Ibiza History Culture

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by Gary Hardy




Ibiza is the westernmost of the Balearic Islands and few islands can have changed hands more often because since the beginning of time Ibiza has constantly been invaded or visited by whoever travelled through the Mediterranean Sea. Therefore, I think it only necessary to explain briefly the tolerance of the local people of this ancient island.

The island of Ibiza has been a coveted possession throughout its history and a valuable prize to all those who effected its capture. This is not to be wondered at when one considers its fine strategic position in the western Mediterranean, its two large natural harbours, one on either side of the island, its high vantage points from which to counter would be invaders, its fertility and obviously its favourable climate.

There has always been two fundamental commodities here on this island that are essential to preserve and maintain life - salt and fresh water - which were originally the foremost attraction for the bold seafaring Phoenicians to stop off here and stock up with these two key reserves.

During this period that the Phoenicians came over from the east intent on setting up trading posts in and around the Mediterranean coast of Spain, Ibiza was an obvious line of communication which was consequently occupied, but they were not to hold permanence. In turn the Greeks and then the Carthaginians successively overcame the occupants and established themselves in control. Each race in its turn contributed to the development of the island in a number of ways. It was the Carthaginians who, in 645 BC, built the Acropolis of Ereso on the hill on which the town of Ibiza now stands and who named the island Ibosim. Although there is no conclusive evidence, it is generally believed that the great Hannibal was born on Conejera, the small island guarding the entrance to the Bay of San Antonio and a main street in Ibiza now honours him with his name.

One of the earliest known names of the island, Gimnesia, indicates that the inhabitants of that time, in common with those on the island of Mallorca, were nudists. Now it is only the holidaymakers who try to emulate that ancient habit.

Successive names were attached by the island's conquerors. Ebysos was attributed to the Greeks, who called the southern group of the Balearics Islands Pityusas (pine covered). Ibiza became known as Ebusus during the Roman domination while the Arabs later called the island Yebisah.

Towards the end of the 2nd century BC, after an occupation lasting more than five hundred years, the Carthaginians gave way to the Romans. They too remained in control of the island for several centuries and added further to its development. Their most noteworthy contributions, still in current use, are the salt pans at Las Salinas and some of the island's main roads. Roman domination of the western Mediterranean started to decline before the close of the 3rd century AD with the Visigoth invasion of Spain from the north. Shortly afterwards, in 426 AD, Ibiza was taken by the Vandals. Little more than a century later it was recaptured by the Byzantine armies. This was in 535 AD and another comparatively short period of development and reorganisation ensured.

By the turn of the 7th century the Moors led by Tariq stood poised in North Africa for the invasion of Southern Spain. Simultaneously, in 711 AD they landed not only in Spain but made the first of several successive invasions of Ibiza. Their first occupancy lasted for less than a century. Then followed the most dreadful period of fighting and devastation in the island's history. Between 798 AD and 909 AD the island changed hands four more times - a period of siege and counter siege - during which first the French and later the Normans successfully contested the Moors for occupancy and control. It was during this time that Christianity was restored to Ibiza's inhabitants.

There was no lasting peace, however. In 900 AD after several attempts to recapture Yebisah, the Moors eventually re-established themselves in command. Their next settlement was to last for some three hundred years, broken only by a short period when, after a fierce and bitter war, a crusade under the Archbishop of Pisa achieved victory over the defenders. There is no doubt that Ibiza was a valuable prize to the Moors who quickly again regained control. Their long period of occupation too has left many marks still in evidence today, some seven hundred years later, both in the customs and characteristics of the Ibicencans, their dialect and in the whitewashed Moorish style houses.

On 8th August 1235 a force of Catalans under the Archbishop of Tarragona, Guillermo de Montgrí finally drove out the Moors. Since that time, and indeed, until early in the 19th century repeated attempts were made to capture the island both by Moors and the Turks but all without success.

Christianity was quickly restored to the island immediately after the Moors had been finally vanquished. One of the first tasks of Guillermo de Montgrí was to establish a church in Ibiza. The Moslem mosque, previously the site of the old Roman church, and possibly before that the location of the original Carthaginian Acropolis, was chosen on which to build the church of Santa Maria which was then of Gothic construction and this is now the cathedral. Little of the original structure remains however as the church was almost entirely rebuilt during the middle of the 18th century.

During the 15th century Ibiza was made into an island fortress. Watch towers, many of which you can still see, were built in prominent positions around the coast. These acted as vantage points from which to scour the sea and give warning of the approach of invading fleets. In 1585 the construction of the stone wall around the old city of Ibiza was completed. This replaced the old Arab wall. Its ruggedness, even today, testifies to the skill of its builders. Leading into the main entrance was a draw-bridge which, when raised, sealed off the gateway. This then was the citadel into which the defending warriors of Ibiza could go to withstand a long and sustained attack. Most of the village churches, too, had fortifications built into their towers.

It was during the 17th century that the famed Corsairs of Ibiza first became known. Renowned for their courage and daring they were formed to seek out and repel the Moorish pirates. An obelisk in their honour now stands on the waterfront in Ibiza.

The language or rather dialect of the Ibicencans is peculiar to the island. It is basically Catalan with traces of Moorish, French and Italian. Like most rural dialects it is clipped and limited in vocabulary and rarely is it committed to print. Although the children are taught Spanish at school and this is constantly heard on the radio and television the locals still lapse into Ibicencan in their homes and daily lives. Nor does the local newspaper, the Diarío de Ibiza, which is written in Spanish, appear to influence their speaking habits. There still are however many of the peasants who are unable to read or write, although most of them can make themselves understood when speaking to foreigners from the mainland of Spain.

The tourism trade was the last of the invaders to this beautiful island and therefore I've never known such a place like Ibiza where the local folk have this unique tolerance towards holidaymakers who descend in the thousands here on their island each summer.

Closure: after what the inhabitants of this very old island of Ibiza have had to experience over the centuries of time the meaning of the word tolerance "tis too starved an argument for my sword" and besides Café del Mar opens today.

Gary Hardy