CORSARIOS: THE PIRATE ISLAND
There was time when Ibiza and Formentera were as if lost in the turquoise blue vastness, forgotten by the mainland. Columbus had discovered the New World and other trading routes were the focus of attention. It was the 16th century and pirates controlled the Mediterranean. They raided the islands, devastated whole villages, robbed people and sold them on the slave markets. From time to time Formentera was completely depopulated.
But the island inhabitants weren’t intimidated. “One has to make Ibiza impregnable for all times”, resolved the Spanish king Philipp II and ordered the new construction of the mighty fortress of Eivissa in 1556. A fortification arose that no one before had constructed; sloping walls, two kilometres long, up to 20 metres high and three metres thick. The five-cornered bastions, which allowed shots from each angle, survived every attack and still stand today. Protected by the enclosure, the legendary stone slingers – those wonder weapons – were used with which the Balearic inhabitants sank whole ships.
In the meantime Ibiza’s coast was turning into an elaborate “Warning system”, something we can still encounter on many walks. To catch sight of the pirates early they built watchtowers around the whole island. As soon as a ship appeared on the horizon, signals were given – smoke signals during the day, camp fires at night. In those days there was always a tower in sight that could pass on signals. Thus the warning fires quickly spread around the island and the inhabitants hid in the forests.
Many also sought refuge in the fortified churches which were chapels and gave protection from pirates simultaneously, often with cannons on the roof – further proof of barbarian times. The church of Sant Jordi even shows the typical defence battlements. In Santa Eulalia the church sits favourably strategic on the Puig d’en Missa like a small castle.
Also the farmers secured their farms. Many built meter thick protective walls and towers, so that whole fortress villages formed. The dwelling Balàfia by Sant Lorenç still shows this very clearly.
The whole of Ibiza defended itself against the pirates. But not everyone knew that the islanders turned the tables and set off themselves to board enemy ships. Nearly every Ibicenco is supposed to have a famous buccaneer amongst his forefathers. The most prominent of them is Antonio Riquer, he seized the ship Felicity in 1806 from the English Cosars “El Papa”.
Until the 19th century, Ibiza’s buccaneers rendered the Mediterranean unsafe, and this completely legally. His Majesty personally gave permission, the so-called letter of marque, because in those days Spain didn’t have a navy. The pirates thus kept the territorial waters free of enemies, achieved real heroes deeds and made gains for themselves. The Ibicencan Schebeks were flexible, small ships that brought home good booty and prisoners. In this way the Pituses came to new prosperity and the resettlement of Formentera was only possible due to it.
On 30. May 1856 the then Superpowers decided to end the wild ado. Spain initially refused to subscribe because they said it encroached their national defence too much. With all due respect the country stuck honourably to the agreement and eventually signed it in 1908.
This is why the Corsars achieved real fame on Ibiza. Hence the obelisk « Ibiza a sus Corsarios » in front of the Estacion Maritima in the harbour of Eivissa – a truly unique monument built in honour of the pirates.
They hid in the caves where the contraband was stashed.