Tour of discovery through Ibiza’s grand history
Dalt Vila sits elevated on the hill above Ibiza’s harbour, surrounded by massive battlements. The Phoenicians first arrived here more than 2,000 years ago, followed by the Romans, later the Moors, until finally in 1235 Christian troops conquered the fortified city and drove out the sultan. In the Middle Ages Dalt Vila was home to the bourgeoisie. All the various cultures have left their traces in the narrow alleyways of the city. Three new routes through Dalt Vila allow you to discover the past on your own.
With what appears to be the last of his strength, an older gentleman of pensioner age huffs and puffs his way through the entrance to the Hotel Corso in Dalt Vila. “Is there an oxygen tank here?” he asks, with a pained smile. The Brit seems not to have lost his sense of humour despite the exertion. After a longer (tea) break he and his companions probably continued their climb up to the cathedral.
You may sense that the Route of the Hidden Nooks is probably not for the frail. On hot summer days only the bravest of the brave will have reached the end of the tour – most probably decided to turn back in face of the sweat-inducing climb. Well, Dalt Vila is located on a hilltop, and it is a much more pleasant tour for a cooler day.
This may be the reason the tourism experts of Ibiza’s city government and the Foundation for Promoting Tourism (Fundacion para la Promocion Turistica) waited until September to present the three newest tourist routes through Dalt Vila. An extended circuit through the historic upper town of Dalt Vila has brought any number of residents and holidaymakers to their knees thanks to the countless number of stairs and climbs.
Ibiza is celebrating a very special tenth anniversary this year. In summer 1999 UNESCO declared the historic Dalt Vila and parts of the strait between Ibiza and Formentera to World Cultural and Natural Heritage Site. Since that day at irregular intervals the city has been accused by its critics of not doing enough to honour the high prestige that the distinction brings with it.
Over the past several years, however, they have come up with a few ideas to make Dalt Vila more interesting to visitors, including information boards, new paving, interesting museums, guided tours with street theatre, and a Renaissance Faire that is famous well beyond the island’s shores. Perhaps the 30,000 newly printed brochures (15,000 in Spanish, 5,000 in English, 3,500 in German) will finally quiet some of the naysayers. The brochures recommend three circuit tours of Dalt Vila: The Traditional Route, The Route of Bastions, and the Route of the Hidden Nooks.
The latter of the three arouses curiosity due to the mysterious name, even for those who rarely get lost in the maze of narrow alleyways. The practical foldout brochure with street map says, “On this stroll you will discover the magic of the medieval alleyways of Dalt Vila.” We could not resist and decided to take the tour.
It starts at the entry gate Pasaje de Simo Pouet not far from Teatro Pereira. In just a few minutes you will arrive on a plaza that you may not wish to hurry away from, the Placa de Vila. It is a lovely place flanked by cosy restaurants and family-run shops. On the northern end of this picturesque plaza stands a black, wrought-iron fountain – a recollection of the eras when the water up here did not just flow from a faucet.
Walking past the whitewashed facades, occasionally decorated with flowerpots – or even with a one-metre-tall painting of Donald Duck – the alleys Calle de Santa Creu and Calle de Sant Antoni wind their way up to Calle de Sant Josep. Here you notice the Carnisseria, a massive stone building that was used as an abattoir, or slaughterhouse, well into the 18th Century.
Painter Antoni Mari Ribas bought the building in 1946, better known as Portmany on Ibiza. Next you cannot help but notice the small balcony on the house number 5B. It is perhaps just one square metre large, however it gives the impression that it has to replace a whole backyard shed for a large Spanish family. We saw a hanging clotheshorse, three gas canisters, a television antenna and plenty of tools and other things decorating the wood and metal construction.
Further along, your path leads to the blindingly white church Iglesia del Hospitalet, nowadays used as a place of worship for the Orthodox congregation on the island. Across from it a stone stairway with plenty of steps leads to Calle Conquesta, which according to the brochure is Ibiza’s Walk of Fame. The in the meantime closed Hotel El Palacio does not include the handprints of any famous Hollywood stars, however a few German screen luminaries did leave their marks. This street would better be named Walk of Flowerpots considering the large number of such of all colours and sizes decorating the lane.
After a few twists and turns another stairways leads up upward to Calle Pintor Mariano Tur. This is where the author met the British pensioner mentioned at the beginning of the article. Once having reached the top, you have your choice of a break in the strategically located Hotel Corso, from whose terrace Onassis once kept an eye on his luxury yacht, or the immediate climb to the cathedral. Deciding for the latter will bring you just a few moments later to a small, inconspicuous portal, the Sa Portella. It is the only surviving gateway from the Middle Ages, and even back then it provided access through the medieval walls into the upper city. It is always a bit exciting here during the Good Friday procession. It is not easy for those carrying the statue of Christ to get the holy burden undamaged and perfectly balanced through the portal’s archway.
Once past Sa Portella, just a turn to the right will provide you with your first view of the cathedral. The Calle Major is one of very few streets in Dalt Vila where you can look in amazement at the sophisticated mansions from previous centuries. This is where the rich and powerful were at home on the island, for example in the Casa Bardaixi, the Casa Gotarredona, or the Casa Balansat. In the Casa de la Curia, the former seat of the curia, you can now visit the lovely Museum Madina Yabisa. Visitors to it can find out just about everything about the Moorish past of Ibiza in a well-designed exhibit.
Once you have reached the cathedral you start your way back. Just a few paces past the church on your right will be rewarded with a fantastic view over large swaths of the island. The next bit of good news is that it is all downhill from here on out. The highlight of the descent can be found in Calle Sant Ciriac, which runs directly into the Calle Major – the chapel Capilla de Sant Ciriac. A secret entrance is located in the small crypt, and legend has it that in 1235 the Catalonian conquerors used it to gain access to the upper city and overthrow and drive out the Moorish rulers.
Both streets Calle Joan Roman and Calle de Ponent afterwards lead straight to the new city hall, Can Botino, where the city fathers moved into their new offices two years ago. Parts of the building are open to the public, for example the city archive. It is also worth stopping by the connected bar for a refresher and to enjoy its terrace, with a gorgeous view of Dalt Vila. Vicent stands behind the bar, a veteran of and well known in the scene. Until last summer he ran the famous corner bar Bar Rafal in the La Marina quarter.
|Our own tour of Dalt Vila on a google map|
Unfortunately the lease was up, and the owner felt that more money could be made with a new lessee. Vicent, who spent fifty years in the Bar Rafal, had to make way, along with his wife Maria. Because Maria still had two years to go to reach pensioner’s age (Vicent long ago reached that milestone), the city decided to turn over to them the space next to city hall. And so Vicent and Maria provide the new building a good and proper portion of city history, at least for two years.
After the pit stop with Vicent and Maria you head into the final curve. The long Calle de sa Carossa heads downhill to Placa de Vila, where the few residents of Dalt Vila in November congregate. After a good two hours underway the tour is almost over. Just a few strides through the weapons courtyard (Patio de Armas) with its ten curved arches leads you to the Portal de ses Taules, the main gate to Dalt Vila. The brochure leaves you to find your own way through the La Marina harbour neighbourhood. It is well worth the visit, although during the off-season the majority of streets here belong to the stray cats and the whistling wind.
The brochures can be picked up in the tourism information offices in Ibiza at Paseo Vara de Rey 1, Calle Antoni Riquer 2 (on the harbour) and in Casa de la Curia (across from the cathedral). All three offices are open year round.
We’ve done our own little tour of Dalt Vila here – on a google map and complete with photos and gps files that you can download to your gps capable mobile.
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