Ibiza and Formentera’s Heritage: A Non-Clubber’s Guide

October 12th, 2009 - 11:53 pm Posted in Barbary Press, ibiza, literary | Comments (2)

Barbary Press, run by island publisher Martin Davies, is an imprint full of beautiful books of history and archive photography relating to Ibiza’s colourful heritage. Past titles, often appearing in different language editions, have included Eivissa – Ibiza: A Hundred Years of Light and Shade (Cents anys de llum i ombra); A Valley Wide (Crepusculo sobre Sa Cala); The Road to San Vicente (El camino a sant Vicente); Birds of Ibiza (Nuestres aves) and Eivissa – Ibiza: Island Out of Time (L’Illa d’un temps).

November will see the publication of the latest title from Barbary – Ibiza and Formentera’s Heritage: A Non-Clubber’s Guide, written and illustrated by Paul R. Davis. Author and illustrator of ten books on the historical monuments of Wales, Davis is a regular visitor to Ibiza and has compiled a fascinating history of Pitiusan monuments and historical buildings that he hopes will be of as much interest to visitors as to locals here.




Inspired by the apparent lack of interest (until very recently) from the Ibiza tourism industry to promote their many sites of historical interest, Davis has included what he sees as the most important and interesting places to go and visit, along with considerable background on the early invasions and occupations of the islands, and their impact on the landscape.

Chapters include a close look at the history of Dalt Vila and its necropolis; prehistoric, Punic and Roman remains around the island; Corsairs, dye works and salt pans; water and refuge towers; mills, wells and waterwheels and a look at the caves and mines of underground Ibiza.

Thr book is an excellent companion for anyone interested in history and archaeology. It also contains a further reading section, namechecking some splendid old books such as writer and raconteur Patrick Pringle’s Four Fair Isles (1961), Gaston Vuillier’s The Forgotten Isles (1896) and Eduard Posadas Lopez’ Torres y piratas (1989). It also contains forty colour photographs, stunning endpapers, a beautiful 1765 map showing every well and every casa payesa, and many of Davis’ beautiful drawings.

The chapter on Dalt Vila traces the history of the buildings and communities there back to 600 BC, and includes fascinating comparisons with other ancient Mediterranean port towns. Special emphasis is also placed on our temples and other places of worship, and edifices like the sturdy defense towers. Davis looks at all the various stages of settlement and barrio reconstruction through the ages. Full of important birthdates of extant landmarks like the peixateria (1875) and Teatre Pereira (1898), the book also features an indepth study of the necropolis.

The necropolis (“city of corpses” in Greek) of Puig des Molins is the largest Punic necropolis outside of Carthage, and was in use from around 600 to 700 BC. Apparently the collection of sixteenth and seventeenth century bells in the loft provided the only public announcement system the island had before the days of the first telephones, and, enchantingly, the carillons were coded to send out different messages which would be understood by the townspeople. These would include warnings of pirate invasions, calls for the church mass, councillors being summoned to meetings, festival markers, markers of the hour and the signal for the sunset curfew. The oldest of the surviving bells (Sant Sagrat, 1955) was rung during violent thunderstorms as a sort of challenge to the tempest.



There is a wonderfully descriptive chapter on the Ibiza countryside. Davis acknowledges that Casas Payesas here are very different from the ones on either mainland Spain or the other islands, and are in fact much more similar to houses in Africa or the Middle East.

            “In fact there exists a clay tablet dating from about 2000 BC, which depicts the ground plan of a Babylonian house virtually identical in layout to the farmsteads that were still being built on Ibiza in the nineteenth century!”

Davis cites Vuillier’s earlier illustrations of the various sides of traditional country life during his time in Ibiza in 1889. This one’s pretty thrilling:

“…most notably the practice of a suitor firing a gun into the ground before the feet of his intended bride. The maid continued blithely on her way, seemingly unruffled by the potentially dangerous attention-getter.”

The book also includes a history of the dye industry, a study of the various known and obscure caves around the islands, and a discussion of the Formentera cave settlements which are now known to have dated back to 1800-1600 BC. Then there is a close look at our churches, and as a Sant Llorenc denizen I was particularly interested to learn my hood was named after an honourable scout:

“Another saint to fall foul of the increasingly stringent measures against Christians in the later Roman period. In AD 258 he was ordered to hand in all the wealth of the church in three days. Saint Lawrence then distributed his money to the poor, and after gathering as many aged, lame and sick people as he could find, presented them to the authorities as ‘the true treasures of the Church’. His persecutors were not amused, and had him roasted to death on a gridiron.”

Indeed, they were a bit assiduous about roasting their saints here back in the day.

“The young Saint Eulalia who (like that other child martyr, Agnes) suffered during the Diocletian persecutions at the tender age of twelve, for refusing to worship the official Roman gods. Her roasted remains were subsequently interred in Barcelona Cathedral.”


Among my favourite features of the text are the linguistic contributions (mostly aided by publisher Martin Davies). I’d always believed that San Joan de Labritja referred to the San Vicente road (acting as a bridge to the island after its late construction), but I’ve just discovered in reading the text that labritja means hillside. Formentera, which I’d always thought came from the word for grain, is apparently much more likely to have come from the Catalan word for promontory.

“Ibiza and Formentera are the most westerly isles of the Balearic group and are usually known as the Pityuses (there are various spellings of the word, but this is the modern equivalent used here). This odd name originated with the Greek mariners who sailed the Mediterranean more than three thousand years ago and saw the outlines of dark, tree-covered mounds on the horizon. They called them the ‘Islands of Pine Trees’ (nesoi pityoussai), a descriptive title that still holds true to this day. Perhaps these early travellers also suffered first-hand experience of the islanders’ renowned skill with a leather sling (bassetges in Ibicenco), for the name now given to the entire archipelago is thought to derive from the Latin ballista, meaning ‘to throw’ (as in the modern word ballistic). The feared Balearic marksmen were capable of firing lead or stone pellets with deadly accuracy into any advancing foe. The island and its main settlement appears throughout history in various guises – Ibosim, Ebeso, Ebusus, Yabisa, Eivissa, Ibiza – and may also be a reference to the pine or balsam trees. Some authorities, however, believe that the earliest version of the name refers to one of the gods worshipped by the earliest colonists, and translates as ‘the Islands of Bes’.”

I’m delighted to see the word “molinophile” in existence. The Balearics have, of course, attracted vast numbers of these over the years. Moving on to the history of the salt pans (Ses Salines), we learn that the word “salary” comes from the Latin word word for salt (“salarium” – paid in salt). The biggest export during Middle Ages, it was of course the Phoenicians who first arrived in Sa Caleta to access the salt pans. Salt continued through the ages to be only major industry on the island pre-tourism. The Phoenicians (Canaanites from the Holy Land), who were esteemed mariners and explorers as well as highly skilled craftsmen were possibly the first Mediterranean business community. It was the Greeks who first called them Phoenicians (phoinikes), meaning “purple people”, which was a reference to the expensive dyed cloth they traded in.




And here’s a handy list of places we live in and what they mean, that I culled from throughout the text:

Fruitera – fruit tree (Gertrudis)
Peralta – (Sant Carles) clan who owned the church land.
Labritja – hillside (Sant Joan)
Portmany – main port (Sant Antoni) from Portus Magnus.
Riu – (Santa Eularia) river
S’estany – (sant francesc) pond
Sa Talaia (Sant Josep) – fortified tower
Corona – (Santa Agnes) crown
Balansat (Sant Miquel) family name

Ibiza and Formentera’s Heritage: A Non-Clubber’s Guide will be published in Catalan, Castilian and English editions.

Date and launch in November; more details will be posted here soon.
Helen Reilly Donlon

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2 Responses to “Ibiza and Formentera’s Heritage: A Non-Clubber’s Guide”

  1. Perder Peso Rapidamente Says:

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  2. Leta Pouncil Says:

    Very intresting info thanks for taking the time to share. I will deffinately come back here again shortly.