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Reminiscences of British Minorca

No, we’re not thinking of homing in on all the Britons who travel to the island – and there are quite a few of them – or visiting the places they frequent, which could well be the subject of another post. Instead, let’s take a closer look at a period of Minorca’s past which still lingers there. Apart from boasting many beautiful beaches, the fact is this Balearic island occupies a strategic location in the Mediterranean. In previous centuries this led it to become a prize coveted by all in their jostle to control the trade routes across the Mare Nostrum. This small stretch of sea was fought over by Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Normans, Arabs, Spaniards, English and French.

This time we are focusing on the British crown, which occupied Minorca for nearly a century – from 1708 to 1802 – which ended with the signing of the Treaty of Amiens. A period when the British left their mark on the island’s people, architecture, language and cuisine and in many other ways.

The first example that comes to mind is the presence of Anglicisms in Minorcan,with such words as fáitim (fight him), joques (jokes) or fingles (fingers), or expressions like quatre mens i un boi (i.e. “four men and a boy”, meaning very few people) or fer un trinqui (“have atrinqui” from “drink”).

Gastronomy is another facet of Minorcan culture where the British have left their imprint. In the old recipes, lard is used instead of the native olive oil, while one of the island’s traditional desserts –greixera dolça– is a reworking of an English steam pudding. The pomada,one of the most popular cocktails in Minorca and a mainstay in all its festivals, contains gin – Minorcan gin – which, as you may have surmised, was introduced by the British.

Also well preserved are numerousarchitectural remainsdating back to the period of the British occupation which are well worth visiting when you happen to be on the island. Here are some of the most noteworthy examples:

The area around Mahón harbour. During their time on the island, the British made concerted efforts to build defence works around the harbour in the form of numerous forts and towers designed to withstand enemy assault. Once such example is Fort Marlborough, located in the Esteve Cove south of the port. It was built from 1720 to 1726 and named after Sir John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough. It is now a museum dedicated to the history of both Minorca and Europe in the 18th century. Be sure to stroll around its moat and to take in views of the historic areas of Mahón harbour.

Also located on the south shore of the harbour mouth is St Philip’s Castle, originally built by the Spanish in the 16th century as a defence against the Turks. With the British occupation its exterior was reinforced. A striking feature of this castle is the network of underground galleries, a veritable labyrinth of passageways which was used as a shelter by both the British and Spanish during times of enemy attack.

Hard by St Philip’s Castle is the municipality of Es Castell, which was founded by the British in 1771 and originally named Georgetown. It was built to an orthogonal ground plan and its standout feature is the Esplanade, which now houses the town hall. When the island was returned to the Spanish, it was renamed Villacarlos, in honour of Charles III.

Lastly,  situated in Mahón harbour is Isla del Rey, also known as Bloody Island, as it was there that King Alfonso III landed in 1287 on his way to reconquer Minorca from the Moors. Apart from vestiges of an early-Christian church, there are remains of a military hospital built by the British.

El Camí d’en Kane (Kane’s Walk). Sir Richard Kane was lieutenant-governor of Minorca during the first two periods of British occupation. One of the many infrastructure works he committed was a road linking Mahón to Ciutadella, of which the only surviving stretch runs from Mahón to Es Mercadal. It is well worth travelling, preferably by bicycle, as it is ideal for enjoying the island’s scenic interior. At some stage along the route you will come across an obelisk commemorating the endeavours of Sir Richard Kane.

Watchtowers. Still standing are numerous watchtowers built by the British as lookouts to alert to enemy incursions. The largest of them is the Fornells Tower, but you will find many more around the island’s perimeter – Torre des Castellar (Ciutadella), Torre de Sa Mesquida and Torre Cala Molí (Mercadal), among others.

Our last recommendation when retracing the British presence on the island consists of two colonial houses which now offer accommodation – Hotel Son Granot, built in 1712, with magnificent views of Mahón harbour, and Hostal El Almirante, dating from 1809, located in Es Castell.

While roaming from cove to cove across the island, be sure to also seek out Minorca’s past – book your Vueling here!


Text by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS

Images by jorapa , Fundació Destí Menorca


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