Ibiza did not become one of the world’s most important tourist destinations by chance. Its land, beaches, scenery and sun have brought it international fame, and despite there being some concern over the need for greater environmental protection, it is still a wonderful place for those who enjoy nature, the sea, or cities with history.
The only historical and truly urban municipality is Ibiza town. In the centre of Ibiza there is a group of architecturally impressive buildings, which has recently been declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco. The castle, the Cathedral and a very well-preserved wall, are signs of the rich past of this part of the Mediterranean. From the back of this group, known as El Soto, there are some incredible views, and on clear days the nearby island of Formentera can be seen. At the foot of the walled area is one of the most exciting districts to visit, the harbour and the marina, which combines the modern and the historical. Next to this zone, the Vara de Rey, where the legendary facade of the Hotel Montesol, can be seen, helps to make a very pleasant walk around the town complete.
Ibiza also has a very important wetland known as Ses Feixes. It is located next to Talamanca beach, and still has the remains of the Arab irrigation system. It is also an important bird sanctuary on the island.
All the municipalities on Ibiza have their own special charm and at times it is necessary to go a bit further out from the usual tourist haunts to discover the island’s true secrets. Santa Eulalia, for example, has a pretty miniature town, and at its peak stands the Puig de Missa, a splendid church which is worth a visit for its magnificent views as well as for its great beauty.
Another interesting place in Santa Eulalia is the little village of San Carlos, the last hippy hideout on the island.
San Jose is the biggest municipality, and has some of the most spectacular beaches. From the Port des Torrent up to the famous Ses Salines beach the coastline is unbeatable. The best sands and sea in the Balearics are at the beaches of Comte, Cala d’Hort, Cala Carbo, Cala Vadella, Es Codolar, Ses Salines and Es Cavallet. The last two are part of a nature reserve where creatures such as flamingos can be seen all year round. San Jose is also an area where there have been important archaeological finds, including the Phoenician site of Sa Caleta and the Punic site of Ses Païses. The highest point on the island, the mountain known as the Atalaya, is also worth a mention.
San Antonio, despite being the part of the island which tourists know best, is often a place which few visitors explore. Tourists should leave the urban area, which is not particularly interesting, and really make the most of places such as Santa Ines, where the almond blossom is truly impressive, San Mateo (a little village where wine is produced) or the coastal area, from where there is a clear view of the little Conejera island, or Cap Nuno. The area is ideal for mountain-biking or hill-walking.
And last but not least is, San Juan, Ibiza’s unspoilt, green municipality. The Es Amunts area is the lifeblood of Ibiza, and Benirras beach is one of the most well known, as it is both very attractive and a place where the full moon is celebrated. The northern area is the most rugged, the villages of San Juan and San Miguel being particularly attractive. Finally, the spectacular cliffs of Na Xamena also deserve a mention.
History of Ibiza
Ibiza’s history dates back to the Phoenicians (around the 7th century BC), although there is evidence of earlier human occupation. It was the Phoenicians who began to build settlements and to communicate with the outside world. The excellent location of Ibiza in the Mediterranean made communications easy, allowing it to trade with the whole of the Mediterranean region. Ibiza city was founded, under the name of IBSM (Ibosim), in 654 BC. The Carthaginians took over from the Phoenicians, and the island became a real trading post, where money was minted and various industries were established. After the fall of Carthage, Ibiza became close to Rome, and in the 1st century AD the island became a Roman municipality.
Ibiza did not have a peaceful history, however. It was ideally placed for controlling Mediterranean routes, which actually resulted in lack of peace. The island suffered successive invasions, from the Vandals, Byzantines and Arabs. The Arabs were the people who made the most impact, and their heritage is reflected in place names and farming methods, as well as the ruins of Ibiza Castle.
Ibiza suffered another historical catastrophe in 1235. King James I, known as ‘The Conqueror’, consented an attack on the island to take it from the Arabs. The Christian expedition was led by Guillem de Montgrí (whose monument stands next to Ibiza Town Hall), the Archbishop of Tarragona, and the noblemen Nunó Sanç and Peter of Portugal. They won the attack, and divided the island into four districts, known as “quartons”. Once occupied, the island had to be reorganised, and so the parish of Santa Maria, (whose first church made way for the present Ibiza Cathedral, which is located in the upper part of the old town, the “casco antiguo”, known as Dalt Vila) was established.
Despite its conquest, Ibiza continued being besieged by pirates and privateers. Their repeated attacks on the island made defence important for religious buildings (which is why so many churches on Ibiza are fortified), and resulted in the construction of a wide network of towers on the coast (some inland), which acted as a lookout point as well a refuge. Many of these towers are still there.
In 1782 Ibiza was named a city. Three years later it was divided into parishes, and in 1830 it became part of the Balearic Province (created that same year) which incorporated the five municipalities which it now comprises: San Juan de Labritja, San José de sa Talaia, San Antonio de Portmany, Santa Eulalia del Río, and Ibiza town.
The last “invasion” Ibiza has undergone in its recent history is from tourism, which has become the island’s main industry. The 1970s marked the start of a transformation that is still going on. The arrival of many hippies in the 1970s was part of an important cultural change to the island which had begun with the arrival of a large number of refugee artists from Central Europe during the Second World War. All these factors have given Ibiza the cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic character that it continues to develop nowadays, and have played a part in shaping the island’s history.