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Prehistory and antiquity

Around 4000 B.C., during the early Stone Age, the first inhabitants arrived on the Balearic Islands and started to live in caves and caverns. From this prehistoric period, some interesting things have been found on Formentera, including Ca Na Costa, a megalithic tomb in the area of the salt mines near the Estany Pudent salt lake. The cult site, established between 2000 and 1600 B.C., was only discovered in the mid-1970s and consists of a circle of large stones. Almost nothing is known about these first inhabitants; even the origin of the many pottery finds is unknown.

Around 2000 BC, the pre-Talayotic culture emerged on all the islands, which became known for its "navetas", stone buildings with thick walls in the shape of a horseshoe. The exact meaning of these buildings is still unclear, but no weapons have been found from this period, so they probably did not need these constructions for defence.

Around 1300 BC, the Talayot culture developed on Menorca and Mallorca, famous for its 'talayot', round or square tower-like buildings with a central space and with gigantic walls made of stone lumps.

The inhabitants of the Balearic Islands were excellent stone carvers. The Moors called them 'baal yarah', which was later corrupted to 'baliarides', a name that evolved over time into the current name, Balearic Islands.

The ancient Greeks also visited Formentera, but no physical evidence for this has ever been found. The only proof is actually the name they gave to Formentera, Ophiussa 'full of snakes'.

Around 1000 BC defences were built and weapons have been found from this period. Menorca distinguishes itself from the other islands by the so-called 'taulas', vertically placed flat stones with another flat stone on top.

Since 654 B.C. Ibiza was completely dominated by the North-African (now: Tunisia) Carthaginians, or Punics, as they were called by the Romans. They ignored the other islands, including Formentera. Ibiza was called 'Ibosim' in those days. Carthage was founded by the Phoenicians, a seafaring people whose Tunisian descendants named the island after their home town Carthage.

From the port city of Eivissa (Ibiza Town), the Carthaginians traded with other ports in the Mediterranean. The Carthaginians also exploited the salt pans of Ibiza and lead was mined there. The woods were used to build ships and they also traded in ceramics, salted fish, figs and almonds. The famous Carthaginian general Hannibal made use of the qualities of the stone slingers. Among his soldiers were about 1000 "baliarides" from Ibiza and Mallorca. Hannibal often went to war with the Romans, who took over the reigns of the Mediterranean Sea in the last centuries before the beginning of the Christian era.

In 149 BC, the Carthaginians were definitively defeated by the Romans and the city of Carthage totally destroyed. In 123 BC Mallorca and Menorca were occupied and the important trading centre Ibiza (Roman: Ebusus) was given special status as an ally of the Roman Empire. The Romans built the harbour Porus Magnus (now: Sant Antoni de Portmany) on Ibiza and several fortifications have been found on Formentera. Only the foundations of the Roman fortress Castellum Romà de Can Pins on the main road near Es Caló are still visible. The salt mines on Ibiza were very important for the Romans. The salt was mainly used to keep the food good on the ships of the Romans. In Roman times, Ibiza and Formentera were also called the Pityusa Islands after the many pine trees that grew on the islands.

From the 2nd century onwards, the inhabitants of the Balearic Islands were Christianised and from the 5th century onwards, the islands were occupied successively by Vandals, Byzantines and Germanic Visigoths. This was possible because the Western Roman Empire collapsed in the 5th century. In 380, Christianity as the Roman state religion also became the official religion on Formentera. In 426 Formentera was conquered by the Vandals and in 535 the island officially came under Byzantium (Eastern Roman Empire).

Islamic period

From the 7th century, the Moors from North Africa tried to annex the Balearic Islands, but their attempts were not successful until 902. The leader of the Moors, Isam al Jawlani of the Emirate of Cordoba, appointed a Muslim governor who settled in Mallorca. The Moors called Formentera Koluyunka 'full of sheep'. The Balearics were mainly used by the Moors to attack the French and Catalan coasts and Formentera experienced one of its most prosperous periods. Around the year 1000, the emirate Cordoba fell apart and the Balearics were taken over by the Islamic kingdom of Denia.

In 1077, the Balearic Islands became an independent 'taifa' (taifas were the territories that disintegrated after the fall of the emirate of Cordoba. The most important source of income at that time was piracy and especially the merchant fleet of Pisa suffered greatly from it. Together with the Catalans, Pisa undertook a punitive expedition to the Balearic Islands in 1114 and the city of Medina Mayurqa was totally destroyed. The inhabitants of the islands received help from an unexpected quarter, namely from the Almoravids, an Islamic sect from North Africa. The opponents from Pisa and Catalonia fled, but in 1203 the Balearic Islands were still occupied, this time by the Almohadians from Denia and Algeria.

Some remarkable things in this period were the construction of an irrigation system that still functions today and the reasonable degree of religious freedom that was tolerated despite Islamic domination. Architecture, clothing and music, however, were strongly influenced by Arab culture.

13th - 19th century

In 1229, Islamic domination came to an end. Mallorca now came under the authority of the conqueror Jaume I of the Spanish Aragon. In 1235 Formentera was conquered by the archbishop of Tarragona, Guillem de Montgrí. Catalan was introduced as the official language at this time. In 1246 Montgrí offered land on Formentera to a certain Berenguer Renart. Berenguer Renart had to promise to further populate the island. In 1276 Jaume I died and his empire was divided between his two sons, of which Jaume II got the Balearic Islands. With the foundation of the so-called 'Universidad', the Balearic Islands got their own administration.

Under Jaume II and Jaume III, the Balearic Islands prospered economically, much to the chagrin of the King of Aragon. In the following centuries, Formentera suffered greatly from the attacks of Berber pirates or "corsairs" from North Africa. Meanwhile, Spain had shifted its attention to the newly discovered areas in America. Many Ibizens were also formidable pirates who even used Molotov cocktails (ampolles de foc = fire bottles). As a result, slaves, both Muslim and Christian, lived on Ibiza for many centuries. These practices only stopped in 1824.

In the 14th century, the Aragonese returned to the scene and in 1343, parts of the Balearic Islands were occupied by the armies of Pedro IV. King Jaume III was finally defeated by Pedro in 1349 and that meant the end of the kingdom of Mallorca and the beginning of a very difficult period for the inhabitants of the islands. They had to pay high taxes and therefore lived in great poverty. The rich merchants could continue their comfortable lives and this caused much resentment among the ordinary population.

In 1391 and 1450, this resulted in several revolts and social conflicts between the poor rural population and the urban elite. The elite was able to win this battle and dared to raise taxes even further. Until the middle of the 17th century things remained very restless, especially on Mallorca. The noble families and piracy also caused much unrest. Only from around 1650 did the economy start to recover. In the 15th and 16th centuries Formentera even became depopulated due to piracy and a number of infectious diseases. In 1695, a man from Ibiza, Marc Ferrer, received a piece of land from the King of Spain personally. A few years later he received another piece of land, as did his son-in-law Antoni Blanc. It was not until 1726 that more people settled on the island and within a relatively short period of time, around 1000 people were living on the island again.

At the beginning of the 18th century, the Spanish branch of the Habsburg House died out and a war ensued between the heirs to the throne. From this so-called War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714) the Bourbons emerged victorious, and Philip V, a nephew of the French king, ascended the Spanish throne. Philip introduced a new administrative-political system, which turned out badly for the Balearic Islands.

Castilian was introduced as the official language and the islands were subordinated militarily and economically to mainland Spain. In the 18th century, more watchtowers were built on Formentera to better defend the island.

Between 1808 and 1812, Spain fought a war of independence against Napoleon's France. The Balearic Islands were protected by the English and many people fled from the mainland to the islands. Other events on the mainland also left their mark and had a great influence on the development of the Balearics. This was further reinforced when a ferry sailed between Mallorca and the Spanish mainland in 1837.

It was also at this time that the "La Renaixença" movement was born, which mainly defended the own identity of the islands. This movement was the first step towards greater autonomy from the Spanish motherland.

20th century

The relative peace between the two world wars came to an end in the 1930s. First of all, there was the global economic crisis, which also affected the Balearic Islands, and in 1936, the Popular Front, an alliance of communists, socialists, trade unionists and liberal republicans, won an election and a Popular Front government came to power. Their great opponent, General Francisco Franco, was initially "exiled" as a military governor to the Canary Islands.

In 1936, however, he returned to the mainland and joined other rebellious soldiers. A civil war broke out from which Franco emerged victorious in 1939. The Balearic Islands, of course, also became involved in this black period of Spanish history. In this struggle, Ibiza and Mallorca supported Franco from the beginning, while Menorca sided with the Popular Front government. It is striking that under the Franco regime, especially in the 1940s and 1950s, time on Ibiza virtually stood still.

As early as 1930, Formentera and especially Ibiza were discovered by European artists. In the 1950s, the first hippies came to Formentera and in the 1960s the two islands were 'conquered', as it were, by the worldwide hippy movement. Then, under the influence of mass tourism, in barely twenty years the islands changed from being relatively poor to one of the wealthiest Spanish provinces.

From the 1970s, Ibiza and Formentera were definitely discovered by tourists, who enjoyed the sun and culture in large numbers. In 1975, Franco died and Spain changed to a parliamentary democracy under the impetus of King Juan Carlos de Bourbon. Through this democratisation the provinces of Spain became more and more autonomous and in 1983 Formentera became part of the Communitat Autonoma de les Illes Balears. From 1986, the Spanish government promotes tourism on the Balearic Islands even more. Ibiza experiences a building explosion, on Formentera the extensive construction of hotels can be avoided. In 1994, Formentera is visited for the first time by the Spanish royal couple.

See also the history of Spain.


Mallorca & Ibiza, Menorca & Formentera
APA Publications

Mischke, R. / Ibiza, Formentera
Het Spectrum

Rokebrand, R. / Reishandboek Ibiza en Formentera

Sale, R. / Ibiza & Formentera
Kosmos-Z&K, 2000

Schmid, N. / Ibiza, Formentera

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated March 2024
Copyright: Team The World of Info