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History in Ibiza

History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

El Pilar de La Mola - 12th October


Historical Information

The Ibicencos who resettled Formentera were a rugged lot to begin with, but those who chose the arduous task of establishing themselves atop the high mesa of La Mola were an especially hardy breed. The first test of their endurance was the building of a road that began at the southern tip of the island and extended up its entire length. In its final stretch, the road traversed a steep incline of densely forested wilderness to end in the rocky tablelands of La Mola, high above the sea.

Why, the question may come, did these early settlers choose to remove themselves so thoroughly from the two mainstays of island life, namely La Savina port (the primary point of contact with the outside world) and the saltworks, the island's only industry at that time. The answer is peace of mind.

Pirates: A Constant Crew

The settlers knew all too well that, despite the efforts of the Ibicenco Corsairs, pirates still lurked in the offing. It would not be long before they took to raiding the flat, defenceless isle, as they had been doing on and off since the 13th century. The on-and-off nature of the raids was not due to any inconsistency on the part of the pirates, but rather to the inconsistency of Formentera's inhabitants. For long periods of time the beleaguered folk were forced to abandon the small isle due to the precariousness of life there. Naturally, during these inhibitant-less periods, the pirates would desist in their attacks and instead use the island as a stepping stone to Ibiza. (See Ibiza History Culture Archive articles Weekly Edition 021of Saturday 21st July 2001 and Weekly Edition 122 of Saturday 28th July 2001 for further details.)

Success At Last

At the turn of the 18th century, a third and final attempt by the post-Conquest population was made at repopulating Formentera. The old maxim 'third try, best try' holds true here, for this well-augured settling endeavour is the one that ultimately met with success. The fruitfulness of the venture, however, was in no way a given at the time. Records show that Ibiza's power-that-be had serious doubts as to whether such a small group of inhabitants would be able to withstand the hardships, not only of an inhospitable climate, but also of potential piracy.

It is true that by the end of the 17th century, the frequency of raids on Ibiza had been reduced to nearly nil. But this fact did not preclude the possibility of a renewed wave of plunderage on the tiny, tender settlements of Formentera. As a precautionary measure, a hard-working group of settlers choose to start their new life safely on top of La Mola. To the north, this small plateau was surrounded by sheer cliffs that dropped 200 metres to the sea below. To the south the settlers were afforded a strategic overview of any approaching party, whether friend or foe.

Still, there were a few drawbacks, such as having to travel thirty kilometres each Sunday to attend mass. Nonetheless, this inconvenience did not dissuade an increasing number of Ibicencos from choosing La Mola their new home. Island historian, Joan Marí Cardona, describes the flourishing of life in the Formentera highlands with these eloquent words: "Life on La Mola began to acquire a steady, even keel. (There were) roads, cisterns, mills, stone walls to mark off property, young trees that grew proudly. By the second half of the 18th century, La Mola was already quite populated and a collective rumour began to spread through the land that soon the area would be furnished with its own church."

Episcopal Visit

And so it came to pass. Having heard the good news of the bountiful settlements in Formentera, the Archbishop of Tarrogona sent his envoy, Bishop Juan Lario, to visit the island in 1760. The residents of La Mola did not miss their chance to meet with the Bishop and ask that he give his blessing to the church they were intending to build. In addition to the blessing, the people also needed a permanent vicar. They promised to feed the vicar and keep the church in the very best condition. Unfortunately, Lario was in no position, at that time, to grant such a request.

Eventually, however, Lario rose to the post of Archbishop himself and, in 1771, returned to Formentera. He had not forgotten the fair plea of the island's northern folk. Again they put their request to him and, this time, with the high authority of this office, their wish was granted. Work on the church was started without further ado.

Just as the final touches were being added, the islands' newly appointed bishop, our good friend, Manuel Abad y Lasierra arrived in the Pitiuses. What a godsend for the Bishop to find a pre-built church that he could simply inaugurate without all the grief! He probably thought the seven churches he commissioned would spring up just as effortlessly. The young idealist still had much to learn about the Ibicenco way of life.

At any rate, Abad y Lasierra was given at least one church to inaugurate the only one in the whole of this tenure. Naturally, he named it after the patroness of his native Huesca, María del Pilar.


Next week we are going to deviate from our usual format to speak with Francisco Torres Peters, a local priest, scholar and historian. Sr Torres has recently been awarded the literary prize 'Ocho de Agosto' for his book on music in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries in Ibiza. Don't miss it, here at Ibiza History Culture.

Emily Kaufman