Menorca History Facts and Timeline
(Menorca, Balearic Islands, Spain)
Menorca is a small and unspoilt holiday destination, which is part of Spain's famous Balearic Islands. Most visitors come here to enjoy its scenic beaches, fantastic cuisine and peaceful atmosphere, yet others are discovering the wealth of historic attractions scattered across the island.
This island has been occupied by a number of conquering empires over the course of its history, including the Moors, the Spanish and even the British. The history of Menorca up until the Moors is well-documented by the Museum of Menorca, located in a 15th-century monastery. However, the island also has a number of prehistoric sites, such as the T-shaped stone formations known as 'taulas'. These monuments, which date back to Talaiotic civilisations (2000 to 1000 BC), are believed to be ancient watchtowers.
The Roman Empire
At the end of the Punic Wars, pirates used both Mallorca
and Menorca as bases for raids on Roman shipping. As such, the Romans were left with no choice other than to take over the islands. By 121 BC, both Menorca and Mallorca were very much under the control of Roman forces.
The island had a large Jewish community at this time, which underwent a process of persecution and subsequent conversion. However, many Jews who professed to be Christian continued to keep their Jewish faith in private. Nowadays, some of the island's 'Xueta' communities are descendants of these ancient Jews.
Ciutadella is the historic capital of Menorca, dating back to Carthaginian times. By the time the Caliphate of Córdoba conquered the island at the start of the 10th century, Ciutadella had already been well-established by the Romans, the Vandals and also the Byzantine Empire. At this stage, the island was known as Manurqa.
The Caliphate renamed the city of Ciutadella as 'Medina el Jezira', and the island remained as an Islamic state even after it was retaken by Christians in the year of 1231. Nowadays, visitors to Ciutadella can visit the Arab governor's former palace, currently the town hall. This palace also served as a royal palace under the Crown of Aragon.
The island became part of the Crown of Aragon on the 17th of January 1287, when it was invaded by Aragonese forces belonging to Alfonso III. This day is considered to be the most important day in the history of Menorca and is celebrated each year at the annual Processo dels Tres Tocs (Procession of the Three Knocks). The Cathedral Basilica of Menorca (Ciutadella Cathedral) was commissioned in the same year and Ciutadella remains the island's religious centre, despite losing its capital status.
In 1558, Ciutadella was decimated by Turkish forces and the entire local population was enslaved. However, the city remained the island capital until 1722, when the British relocated it to Mahon in a move that is well-documented in the history of Menorca.
Up until the 18th century, the history of Mahon had mirrored much of the other island settlements - this city was also occupied by the Byzantine Empire and the Moors. One particularly notable event happened in 1535, when the city of Mahon was sacked by the Ottomans and over 6,000 of its residents were enslaved, being shipped out of its port.
In the first decade of the 18th century, Menorca was captured by the British and the island became a British dependency. Patrick Mackellar was the chief engineer during this colonial period and lived at Son Granot. This Georgian-style house in Mahon is considered a monument to the British-era and now functions as a hotel and restaurant in the city's port.
The British also brought gin production to Menorca, meaning that the Xoriguer Gin Distillery is another important 18th-century site which awaits visitors. The distillery is still in operation to this day and opens for tours.
The Spanish took control of the island in 1756, following the Battle of Menorca, although the British retook the island a couple of times during the second half of the century. In the mid-19th century, the Spanish built La Mola fortress overlooking Mahon harbour and it remains one of the finest examples of a Spanish military structure from this era.
The Spanish Civil War
Menorca was a Republican stronghold during the Spanish Civil War, despite the rest of the Balearics supporting the Nationalist cause. The island failed to see any action during the conflict, apart from airstrikes by the Italian air force. After the Republicans were defeated in 1936, the British oversaw a peaceful transition period.
Nowadays, package deals and cheap flights draw thousands of sunseeking holiday makers to the island. While some are interested in learning more about its interesting past and rich legacy, exploring a number of the traditional inner towns, many others simply choose to spend their time soaking up the Spanish sunshine on the plentiful beaches.