Ibiza History Culture

Established 1982
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History in Ibiza

History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman



Historical Information

Welcome! This week it is our pleasure to offer our readers a museum update. Spring is definitely in the air because the necropolis at Puig des Molins has recently re-opened its doors to visitors. After being off-limits all winter, Ibiza's 'City of the Dead' belongs, once again, to the land of the living. Speaking as one who has been to the catacombs and back, I rank it as one of the island's top sightseeing attractions.

For the sake of clarity, it should be mentioned that there are two archaeology museums in Ibiza, both under the capable curatorship of Jordi H. Fernández. One of these is the Museo Arqueológico de Ibiza y Formentera, located in Dalt Vila at the Plaza of the Cathedral N° 3. The other is the Museo Monográfico del Puig des Molins, located in the Vía Romana N° 31. This latter museum, the subject of our instalment this week, is situated on the grounds of Ibiza's ancient necropolis and houses the finds uncovered at this millenarian cemetery. Unfortunately, the main body of this museum has been closed for the past six years and will probably remain closed for at least two more years. To gain a better understanding of why the museum felt it necessary to close and what changes have been made in the interim, Ibiza History Culture has interviewed the museum's resident archaeologist, Banjamí Costa. He speaks of the centre's new goals and objectives in respect to both tourism and the island's permanent population.

Ibiza History Culture: Could you clarify the meaning of the museum's name? It's always struck me as very long and complicated.

Benjamí Costa: (laughs) Well, we refer to it as a monographic museum because it deals only with those aspects of the island's archaeology that pertain to the discoveries made at the city's necropolis. There are other smaller, rural necropolises and excavation sites, but the finds from these are included in the museum at Dalt Vila. The term Puig des Molins refers to the name of the hill on which the necropolis is located. In Catalan 'puig' means 'hill' and 'molins' mean 'mills', so the name literally means 'hill of mills'.

This denomination comes form the late Middle Ages, long after the necropolis ceased to be used as such and the land was put to agricultural use. Actually, Puig des Molins is now considered an ethnological space because, over the centuries, it has served many functions. It was the site of a Moorish settlement with its own small cemetery, distinct from the main necropolis; and after that there was a traditional casa payesa, a farmstead of sorts, surrounded by olive, fig and almond orchards. In fact, they used to plant trees in the access wells to the underground tombs. So, there is a wealth of historical legacy here that spans many ages and embraces many cultures.

LI: Why did the museum feel it necessary to close?

BC: We made the decision to close because our permanent display had become antiquated. It was set up in 1981, and subsequently research has been done that sheds an enormous amount of light on old issues. Several important discoveries have completely changed our perception of past events and have allowed us to re-analyse certain aspects of history.

LI: What aspects, for example?

BC: Well, one important breakthrough was conclusive evidence that the Phoenicians founded Ibiza, not the Carthaginians. Their period of influence lasted only one hundred years, roughly, but they were the first civilization to settle on the island. The idea that it had been the Carthaginians was based on a wrong interpretation of Theodorus' writings.

Apart from the fact that the display no longer reflected the island's true archaeology, we wanted to rethink the whole focus of the museum, to infuse it with new life and make it more accessible to the average visitor, especially children. We've come up with new showcases and models that are much more attention grabbing than the former exhibits - more dynamic.

LI: So, not only the content of the display is being updated, but also the style of presentation?

BC: Exactly. We want to attract visitors of all ages and from all walks of life. A museum is a cultural service offered to society in general, and we want ours to generate a "social payoff", so to speak. At the island level, this can only happen through children and requires a long-term, on-going collaboration with the schools.

At the tourist level, it means catering not only to history and archaeology buffs - who would come anyway - but also to the average, open-minded person who, despite not being especially congnizant in ancient studies, would probably feel enriched by visiting the museum. To attract a wider scope of the tourist sector and to instil a sense of cultural heritage in the island's young people is our double aim. We feel the new layout will really capture people's imaginations.

LI: Why will the entrance be through the side gate and not the front doors?

BC: Because we are not opening the main body of the museum, only part of the necropolis and an information area at the side of the building. If you like, we can go down and see it to give you a better idea of what the exhibit is like.

LI: By all means.

BC: (At street level) Well, as you know, this side gate is the entrance to the exhibit. It's not the ideal entrance, but at the moment it's the only one available. Visitors come along this path and make their first stop at the information area. Here they can get an idea of what they're going to see in the necropolis - the different types of tombs and burial practices that were used down through the centuries, etc.

LI: How long was the necropolis in use?

BC: From 600 BC to AD 700 approximately - over a thousand years. So obviously there were many changes in funerary rites. The Phoenicians cremated their dead and buried the ashes, while the Punic interred the bodies. The Romans made use of both practices, with a marked accent on cremation. Also, the use of grave goods and/or substance for the departed souls varied from epoch to epoch.

LI: Sounds fascinating. How long does the tour take, on average?

BC: The information area takes about an hour to visit. There are photographs, maps, explanatory panels written in three languages (English, Spanish and Catalan) as well as several models of the tombs, some life-size and some done to scale.

LI: Who actually make these models? They're so well crafted.

BC: An interesting point. They were made by young men who were conscientious objectors and therefore opted not to do the year of military service that used to be obligatory in Spain. Instead they were assigned a substitutional social service. In this case, they were sent to us and they did a very fine job under our supervision.

LI: Who else makes up the technical staff at the museum?

BC: Basically it's the curator Jordi Fernandez, the restorer, Angela Morcilo, and myself.

LI: Getting back to the tour, after this first stop for preliminary enlightenment, then were to?

BC: Then people can set off on a walking tour around the actual necropolis. There are four points of interest, which we've marked out and explained on leaflets. Also, we've roped off a path that leads from one point to the next. It's advisable to stick to the path because, although at first glance the ground may seem quite solid, it is actually riddled with subterranean perforations: I've seen people fall into these holes accidentally and injure themselves. In fact, the group of hypogea I'm about to show you are called the "Mule Hypogea" because they were discovered during one of the digs in 1946 when a mule fell into one of the access wells.

LI: (down in the burial chamber) My goodness! Are those sarcophagi real?

BC: Yes, they are the original ones, over two thousand years old, hewn in sandstone.

LI: And those bones? Are they real too?

BC: No, most of the bones disappeared in the early digs, which is a pity. The few that were left have been removed for safe keeping as they contain a veritable storehouse of information. The DNA reveals the genetic and racial past of the people who lived and were buried on the island. They also give us information about the physical stature of the people, what diseases plagued then, the average age of death - and thus, life expectancy. The teeth tell us what they ate - if the diet consisted of mostly cooked or raw food, proteins or carbohydrates, etc.

LI: Well, thank you for the tour. It's been fascinating. And kind of spooky, too!

BC: It's been our pleasure.

There's so much more to tell, but I've been sworn not to give away secrets to the uninitiated. For example, why ostrich eggs were placed in the tombs, or why oil lamps were placed over the pelvis of the deceased in Punic times are mysteries too esoteric to reveal in print. If you want to discover the arcana of the crypt, you'll have to make the descent yourself. The only information I am permitted to disclose at this time is that the exhibit is open from Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10 am to 1 pm and 5 pm to 8 pm, as well as on Sundays from 10 am to 2 pm. There is a small entrance fee.


That brings us to the end of our history page. We hope you've learned something new and will pay a visit to the necropolis and/or the museum the next time you are in Ibiza Town. See you next week.

Emily Kaufman