MENORCA. Where time stands still

Prehistory and Antiquity

Without ruling out the prior occasional presence of small groups, human settlement did not take place in Menorca until the end of the 3rd millennium BC. From then on, the pre-Talayotic cultural site was developed, corresponding to the late Neolithic era and the early and middle Bronze age. The pre-Talayotic period is characterised by megalithic constructions (dolmens, boat-shaped rooms, etc.) and primitive cattle breeding and agriculture.

The pre-Talayotic societies would continue to evolve to create the Talayotic culture, which spanned the first millennium BC with two very diverse periods. The first period would last until the 8th-7th centuries BC and is characterised by the construction of tower-shaped monuments, generically called talayots. Villages also arose during this period, some of which were walled. They featured different kinds of cyclopean monuments (taulas or megalithic t-shaped monuments, hypostyle rooms, etc.), some of which were highly developed (Trepucó, Torre d'en Galmés, Son Catlar).

It seems as though Talayotic society went through a serious crisis that coincided with the introduction of iron metallurgy (13th century BC), bringing about profound changes and internal conflicts. From the 6th century on, the indigenous population was deeply affected by outside influences, especially by the Punics from their Ibizan base. The Menorcans, like the Mallorcans, enrolled as mercenaries for the Carthaginian armies and participated in some of Antiquity's great wars (Greek Punic wars of Sicily and the Punic wars against Rome).

Menorca and Mallorca were conquered by the consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus and were linked to the province of Hispania Citerior (123-121 BC). The Romans created military settlements in Sanicera (Sanitja), Mago (Maó) and Iamo (Ciutadella), which would gradually become urban centres. Mago and Iamo were increasingly important and became towns governed by Latin law in the times of Vespasian (74 AD). Romanisation progressed above all in these small towns but did not flourish in the island's inland areas, where many characteristics of the old indigenous culture would live on for centuries. During this period, Menorca was a thoroughfare for ships crossing the western Mediterranean as archaeology (and particularly submarine archaeology) demonstrates.

With the passing of time, Christianity and Judaism would take root in Menorca. In 418, Bishop Severo who was based in Iamo (also known as Iamona at the time) managed to convert Mago's large and influential Jewish community to Christianity, as he narrated in an encyclical letter in which he affirmed that St. Stephen's relics were responsible for the conversion. However it took place, Christianity became deeply rooted in Menorca and numerous early Christian basilicas have been discovered on the island.

From the Vandal reign to the end of the autonomous taifa of Manurqa

Menorca, like the rest of the archipelago, was plundered by the Vandals and later (454) annexed to their kingdom, whose capital was in Carthage. When the Vandal king was killed by Justinian's troops, the Balearic islands became part of the Byzantine empire (535). We know very little about the 7th-8th centuries, when the Balearic Islands continued to be nominally subject to Constantinople, but it seems as though they were in a state of semi-independence. The 8th-9th centuries were marked by attacks from Muslims and later, from the Normans. Halfway through the 9th century, the Balearic Islands paid taxes to the Caliphate of Córdoba, but the islands were still inhabited by Christians.

In 902-903, the Balearic Islands were conquered and annexed to the Caliphate of Córdoba. An intense process of Islamization then started with the arrival of Arabic, Berber and Andalusian Muslims from al-Andalus and North Africa. The Madina Manurqa or Madina al-Jazira (Ciutadella) became the only urban centre on the island, ruled by Mallorca. From that period we only have information about the attacks on the island as a result of the Pisan-Catalan crusade against the Balearic Islands (1114) and the Genoese attack in 1146. Menorca was also the backdrop for the battle between the Almoravids and the Almohads to control the Balearics (1202).

Mallorca was conquered by James I (1229) and this monarch made an infeudation agreement with the Menorcan Muslims, by which they could maintain their autonomy in return for the recognition of James I's sovereignty and payment of an annual tax. It was the era of greatest splendour of Muslim rule in Menorca, under the long government of the Raïs Said ibn Hakam, a learned man who surrounded himself with a literary court in his palace in Ciutadella.

The Christian conquest and the end of the Middle Ages

Alfonso the Liberal, King of Catalonia-Aragon, conquered Menorca in January 1287. The Muslim population was enslaved or expelled and the island was colonised mainly by people from Catalonia. The conquest thus implied Menorca's incorporation into Western Christian civilisation and the Catalan cultural sphere. Between 1298 and 1343, Menorca formed part of the independent Crown of Mallorca. Throughout this time, the island's own institutions began to take shape (particularly the Universitat de Menorca) and the towns of Ciutadella (capital of Menorca), Maó and Alaior were developed. The embryonic forms of what are now Mercadal and Ferreries also appeared. Economy was essentially based on agriculture and cattle breeding (sheep breeding to export wool and cheese) with a certain amount of manufacturing activity in populated areas. It was also a troubled time from the social viewpoint, with continuous uprisings and struggles between oligarchic sides for the control of institutions.

The 16th-17th centuries

The 16th century is marked by the Turkish plundering of Maó (1535) and Ciutadella (1558). The first was led by Barbarossa, which ended in the plundering of the city and the capture of 800 prisoners. The second was much more important, as a strong Turkish fleet of 120 galleys lay siege to Ciutadella for nine days, stormed the city and then took around 4000 prisoners to Constantinople, after laying waste to half of western Menorca. The second half of the 16th century is marked by the difficult recovery after these depredations and the construction of the Sant Felip Castle, which served to protect the port of Maó.

It was precisely the construction of this fort and the growing importance of Maó port that resulted in the growing prominence of Maó, to the detriment of the capital city Ciutadella. The port of Maó was already being used both by the Spanish fleet and others such as the English navy (between 1661 and 1679). Despite the economic and demographic crisis of the mid-decades, the population rose significantly in the 17th century and by 1700, Menorca was already home to 16,000 inhabitants.

The tumultuous 18th century

During the War of the Spanish Succession, Menorcans rebelled against Philip V and the failure of the uprising resulted in a hard repression. In 1708 however, the British conquered the island, in alliance with Archduke Charles of Austria. The 1713 Treaty of Utrecht recognised British sovereignty over Menorca and the island became a key piece in Mediterranean strategy. The British turned the port of Maó into a naval base, extended Sant Felip Castle and boosted trade activity in the port of Maó. Additionally, Menorcans were freed from the Nueva Planta Decrees and were able to uphold their traditional institutions and maintain Catalan as the official and literary language. The French conquered Menorca in 1756 and occupied the island until 1763, when they were forced to return it to the British due to the Treaty of Paris.

In 1782, the Spanish conquered Menorca and the Treaty of Versailles (1783) ratified their rule of the island. It was during this period when the bishopric of Menorca was established, with the headquarters in Ciutadella (1795). At this time, Maó had become the island's major city and housed the main government institutions. The British would occupy Menorca once again in 1798, but had to hand it back to Spain four years later, in accordance with the Treaty of Amiens (1802).

The Modern era

Menorca underwent a serious economic crisis between 1820 and 1850, causing intense emigration which was mainly directed to the new French colony of Algeria. From 1850 onwards, the shoe-making industry developed and several important factories were opened. This industrialisation, which was not lacking in intense crisis (1911 slide), would continue throughout the 20th century (appearance of the jewellery industry). Menorca continued to be a strategic spot and the Sant Felip Castle (demolished in 1782) was replaced by the huge La Mola fort, built from 1848 onwards.

The military uprising of July 1936 failed as troops remained loyal to the Republic. Between July and November of 1936, assassinations and killings of priests and soldiers took place. In February, 1939, the island was occupied by pro-Franco troops giving rise to a hard repression, this time against the republicans. The forties and the early fifties were very troublesome. Later however, the strong comeback of industry and changes in agriculture favoured a significant economic growth. Menorca entered into a tourism economy that was much more moderate than Mallorca and Ibiza, but tourism gained ground in the seventies and became the most important economic activity by the end of the 20th century. Nevertheless, this delay in the start of tourism industry has resulted in the preservation of a significant part of land, fostering UNESCO's decision to name Menorca as a Biosphere reserve (1993).

In terms of politics, the end of the 20th century was marked by the end of Franco's regime and the reinstatement of democratic rights, culminating in the creation of the Consell Insular de Menorca (Island Council of Menorca, 1979) and the passing of the Estatut d'Autonomia de les Balears (Self-Government Statute of the Balearic Islands, 1983).

PATRIMONI A LES ILLES BALEARS Agència de Turisme de les Illes Balears (ATB), Conselleria de Turisme i Esports Illes Balears Institut d'Estudis Balearics Illes Balears