The geography molded the character of the island’s inhabitants
Ibiza is situated in the Golf of Valencia 39 degree North and 1 degree East: 8o km separate it from the Balearic Main Island of Majorca, 90 km from the Spanish Mainland and 180 km from Algeria. The Island of Ibiza – or as she is called in Catalan “Eivissa”- has always exercised a special fascination on mankind: on the one side the surrounding sea protected the local peculiarities from too much pressure from outside influences, conversely she was occupied from ancient times, due to her favourable position, by merchants and conquerors of many different cultures: e.g. Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, and Moors – which created a cosmopolitan atmosphere. This mixture of obstinacy, when their own affairs are concerned, and tolerance where other peoples’affairs are concerned, characterizes most Ibicencos. As a result the 572 square kilometre island where nearly 120 000 people live, presents itself on the coast with lively colourful harbours, where during the summer visitor from all countries abound, and inland with dreamy white villages, where the time seems to have stood still.
The 210 Km coastline is full of contrasts. Most of the 50 beaches lie in the South. Some with fine white sand slope gently over kilometres into the turquoise coloured sea. Here families with small splashing children and sun hungry Northerners meet, supplied with food and drink and the newest hits by numerous beach restaurants. In contrast the deep blue bays of the wild precipitous cliffs appear like romantic jewels. Those who look in the high season for peace and quiet should not shy away from a tiring climb; they will be richly rewarded. Also the North has numerous smaller beaches, which can be easily reached by car. Divers find crystal clear water all around the island as a special holiday experience. And for those who long to venture further out to sea there are many different kinds of water sports available.
The Ibicencos were traditionally farmers who often possessed a fishing boat. A testimony to this are the long rows of boat houses on the beaches, which today are national monuments. Some are carved into the naked rock. All have in common a big wooden gate and a ramp of a planks, which leads the boat into the water. The peasants regarded the land near the coast as unfertile, because the air and the ground contained too much salt, so that nothing could be planted. Because of this the younger daughters often inherited this coastal land; they were pleased when with tourism the prices of property with sea view climbed to unexpected heights.
Silent, fragrant pine forests
Ibiza and her little sister island Formentera form the Pitiuses. The name derives from the Greek word “Pityussa” which means Pine Island. Only in the year 1276 were the Pitiuses integrated into the then Kingdom of the Balearics; up to this date only Majorca and Minorca were called Balearic Islands. The Pitiuses lost their self-government and kept only their pines, as it is now. Two gentle chains of hills in the West and in the North with deep green pine forests still honour their name. To preserve the top of the hills construction above 200 m height are not any longer allowed.
Most of the hills are not much higher. The highest with 465 m is the Atalaya of Sant Josep in the South West. It is toped by television antennas. The other television antennas gather on the Atalaya of Sant Llorenç in the centre of the island. Across the whole North extends a thickly forested hilly landscape called Es Amunts. Impressive are the large umbrella pines. The Phoenician brought the red Sabina to the island, which belongs to the juniper family. The hard wood is especially suited for house- and shipbuilding. To the scent of the pines joins the smell of wild rosemary and thyme bushes and in the clearings gorse and skabioses provide brightly yellow and violet patches of colour. Rabbits and partridges are only visible during the winter months, but various species of birds chirp in the trees the whole year around. A walk in the forest is at all times an experience. But take care with picnics. To start a fire is strictly forbidden because of the danger of forest fires from May to October! At times a piece of broken glass in the blaring sun can start a fire in the dry undergrowth.
The peasants formed the landscape
The arable land spreads in the valleys. Prominent are carob trees with their pod shaped fruit, which turn brown in late summer. They are used as animal fodder or are shipped to the mainland where they are used by the pharmaceutical and food industry. The almond trees unfold their white flower splendour already by the end of February; an impressive natural spectacle is this “snow” of Ibiza. The wide projecting branches of the fig trees are leafless in winter; in summer the dense leaf roof offers sheep welcome shade. The silver green leafs of the olive tree rustle in the breeze. Their century old trunks gnarled by wind and weather inspired more than one poet.
Lemon and orange, apricots, plums trees, and grape vines are part of the traditional agriculture. Wheat is harvested in May. The rich red clay soil is fertile, as long as it can be kept moist. During the almost rainless summer most of the fields lie fallow. Only few peasants dedicate themselves to planting vegetables. The need of the island’s inhabitants is supplied by transports from the mainland.
Picturesque white villages
Most villages in the country are small. They have a nucleus, which consists of church, pub, grocery store, school and not much more. Only in the last years new living quarters were added, especially since the newcomers discovered the charm of the inner of an island where distances don’t count. The island is from the most Southern to the most Northern point 48 Km long and from East to West just 24 Km wide.
The traditional farmhouses lie dotted in the landscape. They are rightly famous over Spain’s frontiers. The every spring freshly whitewashed cubic buildings, which were over generations built by the peasants with their own hands from natural stone, and added on with growing family numbers, gave Ibiza the additional name “the white Island”. Architects of the “Bauhaus” like Gropius or Le Corbusier were fascinated by the irregular nevertheless harmonious “architecture without architects”. During a car drive or a bicycle tour in the North of the island one can easily understand this fascination. Red and violet Bougainvillea stand in colourful splendour in front of snow-white walls; cactus hedges supply a deep green, at times joined by a palm. Above all expands the azure blue sky – a lost picture book paradise. In the end all had practical reasons: the flat roofs catch the rain water and lead it into the cistern, the whitewashed walls keep the vermin away, the thick walls protect from the summer heat and keep the warmth in winter.
Churches were built in the same style. Here the thick walls were primarily important for defence; sometimes there was even a canon on the roof. To understand this a short review of the history is necessary. When the Christian troops had conquered the island and took it from the Moors in the 13th century, they generally left the population to themselves. With Arabic and Turkish pirates attacking regularly the unprotected coasts, the inhabitants impoverished. Finally lookout towers were constructed, to give early warning of attacks. The bishop had fortress churches built at strategic places, where the people could seek protection. Each church was dedicated to a Saint. In this way the villages developed.
The pleasure orientations of Ibicencos
The relation of the locals with the church was not always problem free. Often the priests complained to their superiors about the pleasure oriented life style of the Ibicencos, who loved to enjoy themselves with music and dance. The Carthaginian gods Tanit and Bes lived on the island since ancient times. Bes, who gave Ibiza its name (the Phoenician Ibosin means island of Bes) appears as a bow-legged gnome who loves wine, women and song in the same way as his pendant Bacchus. To the goddess Tanit was ascribed fertility. In her temples priestesses served as sacral prostitutes. Foreigners were allowed in the side rooms to bed the ethereal girls for a fee. Tanit and Bes who were relatively unimportant in their native Carthage, became in Ibiza the main deities. Romans, Byzantines and Moors, who conquered the island in sequence, praised too the easy life in the warm breeze. Already in antic times many choose the island as the place to spend the evening of their lives. Superficial translations by historians gave her the bad reputation ” one comes to Ibiza to die”, more correctly ” one comes to Ibiza to live here until one dies”. With this history one does not wonder that the hippies of the sixties choose Ibiza as their main base. They rented for little money the often ruinous peasant houses and earned their living with the sale of self-made and from Asia imported arts and crafts. So the hippie markets began, which till today – although often rather commercialized – are one of the main attraction for tourists.
For the moment tourists are the last wave of foreigners who swamp the island. This began with hesitation when the first hotel was built in 1934. When later in 1958 the airport was opened, the tourists arrived in dribbles. The great boom started in the 80ties. Today around 1 500 000 tourists visit the island each year. The offer extends from a quiet holiday on a peasant farm to plain pensions or 5 star hotels and non-stop weekends in discos, where in summer the world best discjokeys experiment with the newest sounds. As in old times the myth of Ibiza is unbroken.
The small island offers an unexpected variety, where everyone can find what they are looking for: a hotly danced through night or tranquil meditation in idyllic nature.