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The Island of Menorca is known primarily as a holiday destination with a Mediterranean climate and unique natural environment for which it was declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1993, and became part of the UNESCO Man and Biosphere programme.
But Menorca is rich in history from Neolithic to Napoleonic times and the days of colonisation by the French and the British.
For those with an interest in ancient archaeology and particularly megalithic culture the island is a treasure trove. There are said to be at least a thousand sites on the island , not all researched and excavated to the same extent as those that are now also attractions for holiday visitors.
I have learned that on my first visit to the Island,30 years ago, our hotel was but a short walk from the Sou Bou Basilica which dates from the 5th/6th centuries AD and is one of the largest Christian churches with well preserved remains from that time. But nowhere did I come across any mention of its nearby existence!
Nowadays sites that can be viewed are shown on maps and well sign posted.
Torre D’en Galmes is one of the largest sites and occupies extensive grounds on a hill top where the Talaiots or watch towers were built with views behind looking up to Mount Toro and down to the south coast.
We were a few days too late to find the Visitor centre open but the Museum in Mahon has an impressive collection of finds from the site as well as a well documented and illustrated account of its history with informationa about how the site was researched and developed.
Research and development and further excavation is ongoing the Universitat de les Illes Balears is involved in collaboration with Boston University’s School in Archaeology & Heritage Management and organise annual working summer schools on the site.
We wandered round the site for several hours meeting only a couple of workmen clearing brushwood and one other couple - visiting like us. Even to the lay observer the various time zones of human occupation become evident as you move around this abandoned village. Numerous examples of human ingenuity, skill and invention, the need for shelter, protection and basic survival can be seen dating from pre-1400BC until Roman times and beyond into the Middle Ages.
(an extensive area is cordoned off - awaiting further excavation)
The site is very exposed and it was very hot when we were there. Some paths are very rough. Wear a hat, sun protection and sensible footwear. Carry water..
Entrance is free off season but we found charges at similar places very modest.
Updated Feb 6, 2012
Address: Carrerera se Son Bou
Phone: 902 92 90 15
Placa de S'Esplanada was formerly the military parade ground and is now the largest square in Mahon.
Close to the main bus station it is an attractive open area that marks the end of the narrow roads and historic buildings of the old town and the point at which they merge into the modern town.
Planted with palm trees, grassed areas and formal flower beds, there is a fountain, a playground for children, and a bowling alley for grownups.
People gather here at all times of the day. Every Tuesday and Wednesday a large market - selling everything - is held here, and below there is a big underground carpark.
The market starts early and finishes about 2 o'clock.
The square is bordered by some attractive Georgian style buildings and there is a good choice of cafes and bars for refreshments.
Updated Dec 3, 2011
As you walk about the old town centre or take a boat trip around the harbour the visible skyline is dominated by the tower of the Santa Maria Church.
The present building dates from 1748 - 72 but stands on the site of an earlier church that was built in 1287.
It is a large church and the wide single nave with a high vaulted roof gives a feeling of great spaciousness. It also gives you an impact of colour as woodwork and painting combine to create a rich glow. The highly ornamented organ contributes to this effect and it is the organ which these days attracts visitors.
One of the largest organs on the island it was built in Austria by the Swiss organ maker Johann Kyburg. Somehoe at the height of the Napoloeonic wars it was brought across country and arrived in Mahon, via Barcelona, in 1810.It is said that the operation was carried out with the help of the British Army.
Our guide book listed daily free concerts In the "summer months" at 1pm. They seemed to be still available right up until the end of our visit on 7 October but started at 1.30pm.
The programme for the day is shown at the entrance and usually included a selection of classical organ music including Bach, Buxtehude, Frank and some local composers.
The doors closed after the concert ended and the church did not upen up to visitors again until late in the afternoon so we did not have the chance to wander round the church and view it at leisure. Nor were any recordings on sale on the day of our visit.
Updated Nov 18, 2011
Address: Placa de la Constitucio
This huge building in Placa del Carme is right at the centre of the historical old town of Mahon.
Built in the middle of the 18th century it replaced an earlier church that had been destroyed in the Turkish invasion of 1588.
It was during the rebuilding which followed that significant Roman remains were discovered and these can now be seen in the Museum a short walk away at the end of Carrer Isabel 11.
The restored building of 1751 suffered extensive damage during the Spanish Civil war, particularly to the interior and its contents . The external walls appear to have shell-fire damage but as you walk around you get an idea of how strongly built they were.
The church showed no sign of ever being open to the public while we wee there and there was no notice to indicate any current use. We were told by a local person that it now stores the towns archives.
The convent has a different story. No longer a religious building its cloisters are now used as a daily produce market with fruit and vegetable stalls as well as meat, fish, cheeses and other local products.
There are also a number of small clothing and gifty style shops.
And - surprisingly -an escalator built inside the cloisters carries you down to a medium sized supermarket!
The Courtyard of the old cloisters has been arranged as a space available for open air, public peformances. And to complete the transformation, at the harbour end of the cloisters, there is a cafe with both inside and outside seating. The latter has great views and atmosphere and deserves a Tip of its own!
Written Nov 13, 2011
I always enjoy the different perspective of a town when seen from a boat. If you do not have your own boat a trip around Port Maó a glass bottomed boats is the next best thing.
We went on the Yellow Catamaran - because it was there and about to leave as we approached it on Moll de Llevant.
The trip takes you right around the harbour and lasts a full hour. There is a commentary ( in several languages) that points out places of interest and recounts the turbulent history of the island.
The harbour of Maó played a crucial role in that history some of which is reflected as you pass by the three most famous of the islands in the Bay - the King’s Island also known as Hospital Island after the British built a hospital and Naval station there in 1801.
Lazareto Island which was a Quarantine Island and the much smaller Plana, or Flat Island the original Quarantine and Fever island.
Interesting buildings of the Georgian era as well as the beautiful modern villas of the rich and famous can be seen on the north shore of the Bay.
At the Tip below Ma Mola the boat pauses for underwater views. My husband went down to the glass bottom deck and reported very clear water but no wild life of any description.
As you return to port passing closed to the south shore you can see the attractive port and resort of Es Castell and a better view of the King’s Island.
The tour cost 10euros each (we had a 1 euro discount).
Not cheap but informative and enjoyable. If you sit on the open top deck remember to take a hat and water, (cold drinks can be bought on the lower deck if you forget.)
Written Nov 9, 2011
Address: Moll de Llevant, Mahon
The original of this building was the first convent to be build in Mahon in 1459 when it had just an Abbott and 12 monks. Nothing at all remains of that old building ( except the cloisters which now form part of the attached Museum).
The present building was started in the1730s at a time of commercial prosperity on the island and completed in 1792.
On first entering it was at first difficult to adjust to the interior light which seemed very gloomy after the brilliant sunshine outside. Sacred organ music was softly playing via loudspeakers and soon ones eyes adjusted to the highly decorated columns and arches of the nave.
To the right of the main door is the most unusual Chapel of the Virgin.
This octagonal side chapel is flooded with light from the windows in the circular gallery which runs around the building, and from the windows in the lantern-shaped dome which forms the roof .
The decoration here is baroque art at its most florid with something more about it of the ornamentation to be seen in the palaces of secular kings and emperors .
The Dome can be spotted from all around the town and both sides of the harbour but is paticularly visible from the sea where it stand out like a light house.
As you leave, instead of turning right to return to town via Carrer d'Isabel 11 go left for a moment down the short alley to the Mirador. From here there are excellent views of the harbour below.
Written Nov 4, 2011
This museum is comparatively new and was established in its present form in 1998. It occupies a former Franciscan monastery that was built in baroque style between the end of the 17th and beginning of the 19th century.
As a result of some reorganisation of the Parish in 1835, the monks were forced to leave the monastery. Following their departure the building had several different uses including a school, an orphanage and a library.
By the time it came into public ownership it was in need of complete restoration. This was beautifully accomplished to create a small but important museum in which are exhibited artefacts found at the numerous prehistoric sites on the Island. In a relatively small space the history of Menorca can be followed.
When we visited on Oct.6th 2011 we were the only visitors there and entrance was free. Warmly welcomed by the staff at the ticket counter we went first to watch a short video about the museum, then made our way to the first floor, passing through the beautiful cloistered courtyard and inner cloister.
Watched by a custodian who pointed out the direction we should view the articles displayed we were impressed both by the collection and the way it was displayed. Of particular interest to us were the objects from the Pre-Talaiot Culture from some of the sites we had already visited. Out “tour” seemed to come to an abrupt end with the Roman and Byzantine displays and we were disappointed that access to the second floor, where the island history up to the 20th century is continued, was closed.
Back on the ground floor we made our way to the cafeteria which was obviously set for a formal lunch and closed to the public. It was only then we discovered that a major international conference was taking place in the main hall - so perhaps we were lucky to have seen what we did on that day.
November to March
Tuesday to Friday – 09.30 to 14.00
Saturday and Sunday – 10.00 to 14.00
April to October
Tuesday to Saturday – 10.00 to 14.00 and 18.00 to 20.30
Sunday – 10.00 to 14.00
Mondays and Public Holidays – Closed
Updated Nov 3, 2011
Address: Pla des monestir Maó
Phone: 971 35 09 55
We had seen posters about town advertising a current exhibition, at La Mola - photographs by the English photographer, Philip Dunn.
We carried a small leaflet with us as we explored wondering where and when we would come to the exhibition gallery.
It was a very hot day, we had already spent a lot more time than the approximate 2 hours quoted for the visit. We were hot, our legs were tired, and we wanted some shade and a place to sit and have our picnic.
That was whe we spotted an open door in one of the buildings ahead of us; as we approached we could see the large poster advertising " Hidden La Mola" - we had arrived at the gallery.
Inside, the whitewashed walls, high roof and strategically opened windows created a welcome cool space. The exhibition was well hung beyond at the rear of the gallery were tables and chairs - one occupied by a family enjoying their picnic lunch. Through an open door a cold drinks dispensing machine and the toilets. What a very civilised arrangement!
Once refreshed we went back to view the photographs more closely and were impressed by all we saw. Philip Dunn captures so many of the things about a place that remain hidden to the less developed eye and the brief accompanying text alongside the photos provided further insight into the history of this amazing place.
I learned later that Dunn leads and tutors Photography Holidays on the Island.
Updated Nov 2, 2011
Address: In the grounds of La Mola Fortress
- also known as Fortalesa Isabell11.
The great miltary architect Vauban had already been dead for more than a century when plans were first drawn up to create a huge fort to defend Mahon and the Island of Menorca from invasion.
But I think even he would have been impressed by the impregnable structure built at the most easterly edge of the island, on the north side of Mahon's unique harbour.
It evolved, grew, was redesigned and changed many times as control of this part of the Mediterranean passed to and fro between the Spanish and the French, and the British during various wars of succession. How irrelevant all that seems now to us, but - like it or lump it - that is history!
By the mid-19th Century political changes and technological advances in artillery and maritime engineering made this fort a bit of a white elephant. What's new!
It survived as a naval station and barracks; saw some grim and murky episodes in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War.
But since its use as Barracks ceased -i t has risen, like a phoenix, to become an historical tourist attraction.
It is an astonishing feat of military architecture and construction.
Well worth a visit to marvel at the engineering skills that created it; enjoy the splendid views and visit the art gallery and shop.
Think about the hardshipe of those who worked and lived here in years gone by.
And be thankful it is now a peaceful place for recreation and reflection.
May and September from 10:00 until 20:00 h.
June, July and August from 10:00 until 21:00 h.
October until April from 10:00 until 14:00 h. (Closed Mondays, except Bank Holidays)
Adult Admission: 7.00€
Senior Admission: 4.75€
Young people from 12 to 16: 4.75€
Free Admission:Under 12 s.
Updated Nov 2, 2011
Address: Carretera de la Mola s/n 07700 Maó
Phone: 971 364 040
There is plenty to keep you occupied in and around Mahon and all over the island but if you enjoy some quiet time with a book and like historical maritime adventures you may find the novels of Patrick O'Brian entertaining.
He published the first in his series of 20 naval historical novels in 1970; the 21st remained unfinished at the time of his death in 2000.
The first in the series, Master & Commander, introduces the principal protagonists Captain Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, Ship's Surgeon at their first meeting in Mahon and they cover the period of the Napoleonic wars and the changing fate of Menorca in those times.
My husband became addicted to them after picking up the first one in a second hand book shop many years ago and now has the full set. The links in the books with the history of Menorca were the final deciding factor in our decision to make Mahon our holiday base this year.
So far I have only heard them on radio but intend to read them for myself - one day!
Written Oct 23, 2011
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