It’s difficult to separate Ibiza’s early history from that of its sister island, Formentara. The two link together and reflect 3,000 years of development. A grave found at Formentara dates back to 1,600 years BCE. Cave paintings have been found in the northern part of the island of Ibiza, in Ses Fontanelles, near San Antonio, dating back to 800 BCE. The Cova d'es Cuieram has uncovered over a thousand relics, some with their faces enhanced by a thin layer of gold. The most remarkable thing about Ibiza’s historical remains however, is their astonishing degree of preservation. The dry climate and sparse population have left many of the archeological treasures undisturbed.
Officially, the town of Ibiza was first settled in 654 BCE by the Phoenicians during the Carthaginian era. The Carthaginians called their town, Ibossim, dedicating the town to the Egyptian god of music and dance. During the same time period, the Greeks were also captivated by the island’s beauty, referring to the town as “Ibiza” and the nearby island, Formentara, which means the pine-covered island.
Early Ibiza was not only valued for its generous harbour, but for the salt early settlers were able to mine from it. Called “white gold”, salt became Ibiza’s number one export in an industrious centre for trade and commerce. The salinas, which were constructed by the Carthaginians, and involves a process of water evaporation, are still used today for extracting salt on the island.
Ibiza held a great deal of importance to the Carthaginians. They built the initial architecture for the strong walls that surround Old Town. A shrine was built for Tanit, the mother of all gods and the goddess of the Earth and fertility. Although gods and goddesses fall by the wayside, Tanit strongly influences the cultural aspects of Ibiza. During its existence of more than two thousand years, it has been the glimmering hope of the elderly and sick, who believed in the spiritual nature of the island to rejuvenate and cure.
The Carthaginians used the island as a significant burial ground. This burial ground is located at the Puig des Molins in Ibiza Town, and is the largest collection of punic artefacts, most of which have been found within the graves. The honoured dead were set to rest with utensils, personal items and statuettes of Tanit. Historians believe the island may have been chosen because of its lack of wild animals that could destroy the remains, but the Carthaginian culture viewed Ibiza as a town of resurrection.
Age of Insignificance
Ibiza was one of the first Roman conquests, and the last of the Carthaginians settlements to surrender. As Rome swept across the Carthaginian Empire, one hundred years after Hannibal’s historic march, it seized the Balearic Islands, defeating the stronghold of Ibiza in 123 BCE. The defeat involved a treaty. Ibiza would surrender if it was allowed to keep its Carthaginian culture and if Rome would destroy no more of its institutions.
Rome wasn’t particularly interested in Ibiza. Its sights were set on more lucrative ports. Very little was done to increase its trade or improve the town’s infrastructure. Evidence of Roman occupation can be found at the entrance to Dalt Vila (Old Town) and Santa Eulalia, where a Roman bridge crosses what is now a dried up river, but for most of its years as a Roman outpost, it remained an independent colony, running its own affairs.
As Rome began to settle into the dust as a fallen empire, Ibiza was over-run and conquered by whatever army was rampaging at the time. Throughout the fifth to ninth century, the town felt the bitter sting of the Vandals, the Barbarians and the Byzantine’s. The Byzantine’s were the only ones, during that time period, to leave a visible mark on the Ibiza landscape.
The Byzantine’s occupation was benevolent, creating improvements in Ibiza life-styles. They brought with them new technologies that improved irrigation of Ibiza fields and introduced a crop-sharing system. Evidence of Byzantine influence can also be found in the underground chapel at Santa Ines.
Ibiza’s history is curious because it’s a tale of invasion, defeat, yet stubborn independence. Its Christian beginnings were interrupted by the Moors, who swept over it in the year 990. The people of Ibiza absorbed Arab architecture, which is still evidenced in the construction of their houses. They adopted traditional Arabic dress, their musical instruments and the language, which continue to be reflected in Ibiza customs and island dialect; 'Ibicenco'. They experienced a great deal of growth under Arabic rule with the development of their salt fields, agriculture and their lively fishing industry.
Ibiza was conquered again in 1235 by the Catalans, under King James I. Legend states this was accomplished only through treachery, as Ibiza was well-fortified and considered impregnable. The ruling sheik and his brother were quarrelling over a mistress from a harem, and one of the brothers, out of spite, revealed a secret underground tunnel to the invading army. The secret passage is located at Calle de San Ciriaco in Dalt Vila.
All local inhabitants of Muslim faith were removed, and Christians began arriving from Girona. The town remained autonomous however, until 1715, when King Phillip V of Spain abolished its self-governance. It would remain under Spain’s rule until democracy arrived to the country, which led to the Statute of Autonomy of the Balearic Islands in the late 1970's.
Ibiza remained largely ignored throughout its years of Spanish domination. It was often plundered and invaded by marauding pirates. The town built churches and extra-fortified walls to defend themselves from attack. Towers were erected to scout for pirates and give off an early warning system by lighting a fire at the top of their towers. The battlements and towers are still in place.
Ibiza’s independence became its most valuable asset as the globetrotters of the nineteen-seventies began to discover its charms. From an obscure town, often over-looked by conquering nations, it became the prime destination for musicians, artists, dreamers, idealists and freethinkers. It has flourished at an astonishing rate, bringing over three million visitors each year. Some are attracted to the pristine aspects of its national parks, or its archaeological digs, which are a recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Some are attracted to the marine life, some to the mythical aspects of the island, some to the gregarious nature of the people, who seem to evolve around a continuous celebration of life, and some to its intense freedoms.
From out of its three thousand years of history, there seems to be the fulfilment of a prophecy. Ibiza, which formed and grew under the dreaming mind of Carthage, has truly become the centre of dance and music.
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