History of the Balearic Island Ibiza


As the continental plates of Africa and Eurasia moved towards each other, the stress in the Earth's crust resulted in the folding of these rock layers. A mountain range arose. One component of this is Ibiza. Further movements in the earth's crust repeatedly produced new folding, folding over and fracturing. Ibiza was once part of a high mountain, then it sank again.

Fifteen million years ago, in the Tertiary era, the Pitiusas emerged for the last time; with that began the history of life we now find on the island. Wind, driftwood, insects and birds brought seeds and small animals from the European and African mainlands and from neighbouring islands. As a consequence of the new upward folding, the connections from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic were broken and the Mediterranean gradually dried out.

Six million years ago Ibiza and Formentera together formed a mountain which rose 4000m out of the former seabed. At that time the high level of the vegetation zone shifted, so that alpine flora could also colonise Ibiza. Then, about 5 million years ago, the natural dam that separated the Atlantic from the Mediterranean basin broke and the Mediterranean in its present form arose. From this time on the Pitiusas were finally separated form the mainland islands and began to develop their own flora and fauna. Two million years ago the Quarterary era began: warm and extreme dryness, very rainy periods and cold alternated with each other.

The rain eroded the higher mountains, rounded the hills, formed the beds of rocky mountain streams, built rivers and extensive inland lakes, and filled the valleys with earth and deposits, for example, Ibiza's fertile red earth is coloured by iron. The movements of the earth's crust are, even today, not complete. At some sites the sandy seabed is raised or exposed by the sinking sea level and sandbanks have become part of the main island while the wind has built up dunes.

The variety of landscape and the vegetation of the island trace back, not least, to the eventful geological history of Ibiza and Formentera, and also to the fact that the Pitiusas are totally composed of sedimentary rocks. Virtually all the sedimentary gravel originating from the sea is very rich in calcium, and many of the plants prefer the lime beds.

Much has been written about the fascinating history of Ibiza. Here is but a short summary. During the time of the Phoenicians, culture and commerce flourished.

Later the Greeks came, then the Romans. These were then followed by the Vandals, Byzatines, the Arabs and the Moors. In 1235 the Christian Reconquista toppled the Arabs and the Catalonians conquered Ibiza. The character of the island was, however, imprinted by the Arabs and the Moors. The Arabs also began intensive farming, built a refined irrigation system, which is still partly in use today, and terraced (as did the Phonenicians before them) further areas with natural stone walls.

The flora of Ibiza was also enriched by the wave of immigration, not only by seeds brought in by accident from the whole Mediterranean, but also the various cultivated plants which today form the landscape.

Those who today explore Ibiza are confronted again and again by further evidence of the wild past of the island. On many of the exposed coastal projections are peculiar shaped towers that served as watchtowers and defence towers against pirates. These were essential because for centuries the Pitiusas were a popular target for pirates from all nations. The Ibicencos also converted the churches into powerful fortresses which at that time often represented the last sanctuary. We can also thank the pirates for the unscathed mighty town wall of Ibiza which still exists today.

The construction of the farmhouses is unique and originates from the New Stone Age in the near East, but then spread in antiquity to West Asia and Egypt where they are practically the same today. Perhaps one of their most striking features is the simple functionality of the houses (cubes and rectangular blocks which according to need, can be extended to make new right angled building elements). These constructions are of such a pure form that they cannot be found anywhere else in Europe and are further evidence of the century long isolation of Ibiza's culture. The culture of Ibiza has successfully conserved a number of ancient elements from its history that have completely vanished in other regions around the Mediterranean.

The fact that Ibiza's landscape appears, even today, so beautiful and unspoilt can be attributed to a fortunate coincidence of circumstances coming together as a result of a variety of factors:

The long isolation of the island has produced a distinctive, conservative attitude in the island's inhabitants. For example, agriculture is still often carried out as it was for centuries - without artificial fertilizers and pesticides. Instead, the fields lay fallow for several years and during this time produce - an overwhelming splendour of flowers.

The absence of private property offers great advantages, above all to the walker. As no farmer needed to protect his potatoes and rabbits against serfs and labourers, large protective walls were not necessary. Moreover, one must on every path cross land belonging to another person, as a matter of course. In this way, Ibiza remains an open island.

Knowledge of the beauty of Ibiza's nature has got around and tourism has increased to mass tourism. Because the Pitiusas are small islands whose growth is limited by natural boundaries it was inevitable that problems and hazards have started to materialise. Unrestrained building has already destroyed many previously beautiful coastal regions.

Water usage has resulted in seawater penetrating into the ground water and polluting it. Precisely those conditions that once made Ibiza's countryside so enchanting have now produced a boomerang effect: the so charming reservedness, calmness and the distinctive individuality of the inhabitants now manifests itself as indifference (outward tolerance) and helplessness in relation to changes which do not immediately affect those individuals themselves.

Es Vedra tower viewThe century long isolation of not only the island as a whole but also the families on their farms has led to this attitude. The result is that Ibicencos idly observe when not only unscrupulous businessmen but also thoughtless neighbours destroy Ibiza's natural beauty - even though this also endangers their own prosperity.

Finally, the economy is more than 95% dependent on tourism. The Spanish authorities have now passed a series of workable laws for the protection of nature, but there are so many ways of circumventing such regulations and traditional nepotism (in the true sense of the word) helps everyone to use this course of action. So, building continues even though everyone knows that every new construction will result in damage to the island.